Tag Archives: sustainability

Daniel Austin receives conservation award for stewardship and innovation

Left to right: Chris Lawrence, state cropland agronomist for USDA-NRCS; Franklin County farmer Daniel Austin of Green Sprig Ag; and, Dan Luebben, son of Carl.

Left to right: Chris Lawrence, state cropland agronomist for USDA-NRCS; Franklin County farmer Daniel Austin of Green Sprig Ag; and, Dan Luebben, son of Carl.

Franklin County farmer Daniel Austin recently received the fifth annual Carl G. Luebben Soil Health and Water Quality Award for his contributions to conservation in the commonwealth.

Sponsored by Houff Corp., the award is named for Luebben, a former Houff salesman known for his passion for agronomy, sustainable systems, soil health research, and mentorship of conservation professionals.

Daniel Austin is a fifth-generation farmer who was raised on a dairy and began overseeing forage production on two family-run, confined dairy operations by the age of 18. He has farmed more than 500 acres of forages and grain crops annually.

Today, Austin owns and operates Green Sprig Ag, where he specializes in forage and cover-crop seed, as well as custom no-till planting and forage harvesting. The producer doesn’t just custom-blend forage and cover-crop seed mixes, he is a regional guru, advising farmers, industry, and agency experts on what to plant and when.

Austin is a true innovator, always willing to host test plots and try new approaches. He is also a passionate advocate for soil-health-building no-till systems, leading by example with his adoption of continuous no-till and aggressive cover cropping. He founded the Franklin County chapter of the Virginia No-till Alliance and has been a major agent for change in land management practices.

Since the first planter clinic in 2011, Austin has organized, promoted, hosted, sponsored, and spoken at dozens of educational events for growers and conservation partners. In the past decade, his efforts have led to a dramatic reduction in tillage and bare fields across Franklin County.

Austin and his wife are deeply committed to their agricultural heritage with an overriding goal of building an enterprise that will allow their son to carry on the family farming tradition. He also hopes to influence other farmers to adapt to the new realities of agriculture. Committed to finding ways to stay profitable in the face of decreasing milk and commodity crop prices, Austin has shifted his focus to value-added production and marketing. He grows food-grade small grains for specialty markets and runs the Little Red Hen feed mill to process his non-GMO corn, soybeans, and small grains into feed for local small-scale poultry and swine growers.

The producer received his award at the Virginia Farm to Table Conference at Blue Ridge Community College last month. The conference is hosted annually by Virginia Cooperative Extension, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, and community partners.

Carl Luebben’s son Dan was on hand to participate in the presentation. Carl Luebben, who passed away in October 2015, previously served on the Virginia Farm Bureau Board, the Shenandoah Resource Conservation and Development Council, and the Shenandoah Valley Soil and Water Conservation District.

— Written by Zeke Barlow

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“Soil Health Champions” receive conservation awards

Extension Specialist Eric Bendfeldt (left) with Kevin Craun and Ryan Blosser

Extension Specialist Eric Bendfeldt (left) with Kevin Craun and Ryan Blosser

Harrisonburg, December 18, 2017 – Bridgewater brothers Kevin and Steve Craun and Augusta County farmer Ryan Blosser recently received the fourth annual Carl G. Luebben Soil Health and Water Quality Awards for their contributions to conservation in the commonwealth.

Sponsored by Houff Corporation, the award is named for Luebben, a former Houff salesman known for his passion for agronomy, sustainable systems, soil health research, 
and mentorship of conservation professionals.

The Craun brothers are fourth-generation dairymen who operate Hillview Farms, Inc., a 435-acre dairy with 150 milking cows, 150 replacement heifers, and 100 head of beef cattle in the southwestern corner of Rockingham County near Bridgewater, Virginia. They are true “soil health champions” who have a well-established cropping system, including alfalfa in the rotation, and take care to closely balance residue management to build organic matter. Other notable Best Management Practices include no-till planting, cover crops, manure storage, and side-dressing nitrogen. Numerous practices have also been installed on pastures to promote herd health, cow comfort, and forage production.

Kevin and Steve sell their beef and milk through local co-ops, which showcase locally grown food from farmers who cherish the land and its sustainability. They have opened their operation to numerous school groups, production tours, and conservation agencies to provide a closer look at these practices. The brothers also serve on various boards; Kevin is a former Shenandoah Valley Soil and Water Conservation District director and board chairman.

Ryan Blosser is the owner-operator of the Dancing Star Farm, where he grows high-quality, chemical-free vegetables with limited tillage. Blosser plants highly diverse crops in permanent rows that are tilled while the rest of the soil remains untouched. The residue remaining on his fields increases organic matter, and crop rotation breaks up pest cycles without chemicals. His soil-health-building practices offer added benefits of increasing water-holding capacity and reducing runoff, leaching, and erosion. Blosser also uses a swale system to filter water, leaving it cleaner than when it entered the farm.

Blosser runs a very successful Community Supported Agriculture program on just 1.25 cultivated acres and focuses on giving back to the agricultural community. He is an executive director for Project Grows, a nonprofit group that hosts summer camps and field trips to teach children about gardening while providing food for the community. He is also involved with the Shenandoah Permaculture Institute, which teaches citizens about this form of intensively planned, environmentally restorative agriculture.

The Crauns and Blosser received their awards at the Virginia Farm to Table Conference, hosted by Virginia Cooperative Extension and USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service at Blue Ridge Community College on Dec. 6, 2018. Carl’s son Dan was on hand to participate in the presentations. Carl Luebben, who died in October 2015, previously served on the Rockingham County Virginia Farm Bureau Board and the Shenandoah Valley Soil and Water Conservation District.

Contact:
Eric Bendfeldt
ebendfel@vt.edu
540-432-6029, ext. 106

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Communities working together

Communities in the Northern Neck knew they had a problem. Young people were leaving because of a lack of jobs, the current workforce needed additional education, and there were few opportunities for those who wanted to stay in the area.

Furniture-maker Andrew Pitts is a member of the Northern Neck Artisan Trail.

Furniture-maker Andrew Pitts is a member of the Northern Neck Artisan Trail.

Four years ago these communities took steps to improve the situation by participating in the Stronger Economies Together program, which has allowed them to build a blueprint for regional economic success.

Today, the Northern Neck is putting its plan into action by engaging partners and leveraging the strengths of this diverse region. Communities have come together to form the Northern Neck Artisan Trail, which highlights the creative talents, foods, and agricultural products of the region, and to participate in the emerging Virginia Oyster Trail. The new trail offers visitors a way to enjoy Virginia’s seven different oyster regions, as well as to experience the unique culture of watermen in the Chesapeake Bay.

The region has received grant support from the USDA and the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development to create the Northern Neck Loan Fund to help emerging entrepreneurs and small businesses gain access to capital. The USDA recognized the Northern Neck Economic Development Plan for its commitment to strengthening the area’s economies and identified it as a model plan for the program.

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Building a better soybean

Soybeans are one of Virginia’s top crops, ranking sixth out of the commonwealth’s top 10 agricultural commodities.

Faculty members such as M.A. Saghai-Maroof, professor of crop and soil environmental sciences (front), are making agriculture more profitable in the commonwealth by building a soybean that can be grown in Virginia and digested easily by nonruminants.

Faculty members such as M.A. Saghai-Maroof, professor of crop and soil environmental sciences (front), are making agriculture more profitable in the commonwealth by building a soybean that can be grown in Virginia and digested easily by nonruminants.

The vast majority of the crop is processed as feed for farm animals — including cows, pigs, and chickens — which are also top products for the state.

Soybeans contain high levels of phytic acid, which stores phosphorous. When animals ingest soybeans, the phytate is broken down in the gut.

While ruminants such as cows can break down soybeans with ease, nonruminants like pigs and chickens have difficulty breaking down the high-phytate content in a traditional soybean. In addition, the waste produced by animals who consume soybeans is also high in phosphorous, which has far-reaching ramifications for bodies of water like the Chesapeake Bay that are overburdened with phosphorous runoff.

M.A. Saghai-Maroof, professor of crop and soil environmental sciences, is one of several researchers in Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences helping to produce new soybean varieties with lower levels of phytate, which in turn is more easily digested and produces less phosphorous.

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Education is paramount for York/Poquoson Master Gardener volunteers

The York/Poquoson Master Gardeners are helping area residents take an active role in improving the region’s environment through community collaboration and educational outreach.

Master Gardener volunteers Merrilyn Dodson and Pete Peterman measure lawns for homeowners for the Healthy Virginia Lawns Program.

Master Gardener volunteers Merrilyn Dodson and Pete Peterman measure lawns for homeowners for the Healthy Virginia Lawns Program.

“The Master Gardener Program brings scientific-based education to the public to help improve lives through citizen outreach. Our program focuses on the needs of citizens in York and Poquoson based on resident input, environmental assessments, and innovation,” said Megan Tierney, a Virginia Cooperative Extension agriculture and natural resources agent.

For the York/Poquoson Master Gardener Program, community education is key to sustaining environmental responsibility. The program hosts several events throughout the year at which guest speakers and Master Gardener volunteers educate homeowners on topics including landscaping, pruning, beekeeping, lawn care, and native plant care.

Gwen Harris, who has been a Master Gardener in the community since 2012, explained that each program’s responsibilities and educational efforts differ depending on the region they serve.

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