HARRISONBURG — As part of its three-day forum, the Regional Agriculture Networking Forum sponsored by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation allowed those attending to get a first-hand glimpse of practices being done on the ground by farmers to reduce water pollution.
The forum brings together local farmers and producers as well as members of the Environmental Protection Agency and state officials to share ideas for scaling up nutrient and sediment reductions in the agricultural sector.
More than 50 people took part in Wednesday’s farm tour and paid a visit to the Coffman Farm operated by the Coffman family, the Riverhill Farm operated by Glenn and Nelson Rodes and the Cave View Farm operated by Gerald Garber.
Each farm provided different examples of practices and best management programs that were funded by various grants to improve water quality.
The Coffman family has participated in protection and restoration practices including livestock exclusion, buffers and instream habitat improvements.
Since starting the Trout Unlimited Beaver Creek Watershed Restoration project in 2010, conditions along Beaver Creek have extensively improved, bringing back native brook trout.
“This site is within the eastern brook trout priority habitat area and provides a good example of how water quality improvements [such as] pollution load reduction and habitat improvements can work in concert with one another,” said Mike Smith, CEO of Green Smith Public Affairs.
The first project restored 2,000 feet of Beaver Creek by using natural stream design restoration techniques to help restore the channel’s pattern, profile and dimension, according to Seth Coffman, Shenandoah Home Rivers Initiative manager for Trout Unlimited.
Instream habitat structures were installed to protect the streambanks from channel erosion and to improve its natural habitat.
Through livestock exclusion, cattle were excluded from the stream. An off-stream watering system was installed for the cattle.
“Roughly 2.9 acres of riparian buffer was placed in to protect habitat improvements being made,” Coffman said. “We have had eight years of growth here and the shade is starting to come back in.”
Prior to the restoration project, data was collected for temperature, stream substrate, fish assemblage and aquatic micro invertebrates. By narrowing the channel and making it deeper, the temperature in Beaver Creek decreased from the upper 80 degrees Fahrenheit to the upper 60 degrees Fahrenheit, creating a more ideal environment for brook trout.
Improvements to the stream substrate were also documented in the creek.
In 2015, with assistance from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, more than 12 adult brook trout were sampled in Beaver Creek, where they previously were undocumented for decades, according to Coffman.
“There is still work to be done here, but we were able to address sediment and temperature issues and keep cattle out,” Coffman said.
Funding for the projects was made possible by numerous organizations, including the Chesapeake Bay Program, NFWF and the Virginia Department of Forestry, according to Coffman.
It’s one thing to be the first, but it is another to be the only.
Four generations of the Rodes family operate and live at the Riverhill Farm, producing milk, turkeys and grain crops in Rockingham County, according to Glenn Rodes.
Nelson Rodes manages the crop operations on the farm, where he has implemented an innovative practice of injecting manure directly in the ground to optimize the amount of nitrogen.
Through the help of Rory Maguire, a professor at Virginia Tech specializing in nutrient management, funding was provided through NFWF to purchase a Bazooka/Farm Star drag hose tool bar system with Dietrich injectors mounted.
“We dreamed of it for years but it was something people don’t do,” Nelson Rodes said. “We have been doing this for almost three years and have seen 20% more harvest with the injection.”
Maguire said due to the manure being injected directly in the ground, there is little to no odor and driving is faster.
Maguire said Nelson Rodes is the only farmer using this type of practice for nutrient management, but said he sees the practice becoming more popular in coming years.
Glenn Rodes manages the farm’s poultry operation with Nelson Rodes’ son, Justin, where they installed a biomass heating system that can use wood chips or poultry litter to provide heat for the turkey poultry house.
By concentrating excess poultry litter nutrients, the system can expand the distance over which poultry litter nutrients can be cost-effectively transported.
The Riverhill Farm also landed itself as an example for how erosion affects water quality.
The land contributes heavily to the rate of erosion along the shoreline of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River due to the river channel changing a few years ago.
Glenn Rodes said the river channel flows through a failed old mill dam channel, making trees along the river shoreline fall and create hazardous conditions for recreational boaters and rafters.
“Our goal would be to stabilize it,” Glenn Rodes said.
Glenn Rodes has been working with Ecosystem Services to find a way to restore the stream.
“The problem is funding,” said Jon Roller with Ecosystem Services. “There is a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done here.”
Cave View Farm
Cave View Farm in Augusta County includes nearly 2,000 acres of cropland, 575 milking cows, 575 replacement heifers and six draft horses.
For close to 20 years, Gerald Garber has implemented an extensive resource management plan and nutrient management training on a volunteer basis.
In the early 2000s, Garber and his farm partners fenced out 2.5 miles of streams to keep out livestock.
“It’s important to look nice,” Garber said.
Through streamline fencing, Garber said he observed improved herd health in connection with the decreased erosion and loss of sediments from the healed streambanks.
“Stream fencing was the beginning of the project, but it is ongoing,” Garber said. “Right now, 99.9% of our streams are fenced.”
Garber said he has done a mix of government-related projects since the early 2000s, one of which included installing concrete slaps over waterways to prevent livestock from “turning up anything.”
“I want to have a clean environment so we try to have a project every year,” Garber said. “Regardless of the Chesapeake Bay, I wouldn’t want my cattle in the streams.”
Garber and partners have also implemented agronomic practices to enhance soil health.