Weyers Cave Farm Sets Example For Ag Groups

Event Held As Preview To Larger Conference, Tour Set For March

Posted: December 31, 2012

WEYERS CAVE — A group of stakeholders toured one of the largest dairy farms in the central Valley recently, partly as a preview to a much larger tour at the same farm in March.

The Chesapeake Bay Agriculture Networking Forum is scheduled to take place in Staunton in March, after the original date was canceled due to Hurricane Sandy. The conference is tailored toward organizations that help to secure grants to fight pollution in the bay watershed and the recipients of those grants.

Cave View Farm in Weyers Cave was used Friday to show off how the most effective ways to prevent dirty runoff into the already heavily-polluted bay watershed. Those strategies are often referred to as “best management practices,” or BMPs.

Gov. Bob McDonnell visited the farm during his gubernatorial campaign in 2009, and earlier this year signed legislation to promote agriculture and forestry development at the location.

Not Worth The Trouble?

Not only does Cave View Farm’s largest silo hold the record for the tallest in Virginia at 148 feet, the farmers who work the 2,000-acre dairy and crop operation have undertaken several initiatives to improve the quality of the streams that run through the farm and eventually into the bay.

And they will often eschew financial help from the government when doing so.

“We frequently … will just bypass some of that funding because [the government is] not doing it right,” said Gerald Garber, senior partner of the operation who guided the tour of his farm. Garber was referring to the conditions that come with using the funding — conditions that often are either more trouble than they’re worth or worse, make the project less effective or altogether ineffective.

The farmers at Cave View have used grant funding to fence out all of their streams, though some of that money came from their own pockets.

They use continuous no-till practices on their fields and use cover crops to return nutrients to the soil and reduce runoff.

“You could pour a bucket of water on this and it’s not going anywhere,” Garber said while pointing to a cornfield, with stalks still poking up all around him.

Cave View has also participated in a manure injection experiment through Virginia Tech. Manure injection is particularly beneficial for water quality because it keeps nitrogen and phosphorus-rich manure from running into streams, which happens when using traditional surface applications.

The farm has also had new barns constructed for some of its 1,100 cattle.
Garber said the farm has the capability to shelter about 90 percent of the cattle at once.

One especially helpful new building is the maternity barn, constructed about two years ago. It allows the animals a safer and more convenient place to birth their calves.  

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Valley Conservation Council were both represented on the tour. The national organization funds many smaller partners — such as the VCC — which then help farms put best management practices in place and attain much-needed equipment, land and other items to stay profitable.

“We want to keep working lands conserved,” said Ben Craig of the Valley Conservation Council. “If your farms are economically viable, then they’ll stay in agriculture.”

Although being more eco-friendly in agriculture doesn’t always immediately benefit farmers financially, it does have a positive impact on their bottom line over time, conservationists argue.

Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or csipos@dnronline.com