Last year, Ernie Beiler gave us an overview of elements of the conservation plan Lone Star Farm has put into place over the last several years. This week, I caught up with him to see what he has noticed one year later.
Overall, his assessment is that each piece of this conservation plan is “doing its job.” The Beilers had done careful research before implementing the four major conservation tools they now have in place on the farm, and they are pleased–but not surprised–to see that everything works the way it should and has improved the landscape of their farm. Still, Ernie notes one surprise: “I’m surprised we didn’t do it sooner!”
Let’s check in about each of the four major elements that make Lone Star Farm an environmentally friendly place:
No-Till Program & Cover Crops
The no-till program, which leaves the soil undisturbed and allows beneficial organisms to thrive there, was the first conservation step for Lone Star Farm. Since implementing the no-till program six or seven years ago, they have seen far less erosion, and their crops–which feed their cows–have flourished.
It’s been a huge time-savings for the Beilers, too. Fieldwork used to eat up their time, but now custom operators plant and harvest most of the crops. These custom operators use less equipment, which saves on fossil fuels and reduces pollution.
In the winter, rather than leaving fields bare, custom operators plant a cover crop, such as wheat or rye, which holds the soil in place and prevents erosion caused by winter’s wind and spring’s thaws.
Between the waterway and the no-till program, the Beilers have seen concrete changes in the way the farm looks.
They used to see deep gullies, caused by neighbors’ runoff on its way to the creek. Now, the 40-foot-wide waterway’s rich grasses slow water down on its path through the fields, preventing that kind of erosion.
They have also noticed an improvement in the field behind their house. It’s a gentle slope, so the Beilers didn’t consider it a place that would see significant erosion, but in the past, they have had gullies there. Now, with water redirected through the waterway and the no-till program improving the soil structure, they have not seen the same issues.
Bottom line: They used to have to try hard to contain and stay after the runoff; now, they don’t have to fight it. It goes where there are systems in place to control it.
Stream Bank Fencing
Four years ago, the Beilers first planted trees around their stream to create the natural buffer zone referred to as “stream bank fencing.”
This area has become a particularly “wild” part of the farm, with the trees around the stream attracting more and more wildlife. Ernie notes that they have seen turtles, ducks, eagles, mink, muskrats and, yes, even snakes. One evening, three or four weeks ago, they saw a small buck right by their house. They had never seen deer so close to the house before. Nature is more and more at home on their farm!
As the older trees establish themselves, new voluntary tree growth follows. Out by the stream, walnut, maple and oak trees have begun to grow.
The new manure storage continues to do its job, which means that the manure is hardly noticeable–exactly what you want when it comes to manure! This is the main way the conservation plan benefits the cows–their surroundings stay cleaner and so do they.
Nestled in scenic Lancaster County, Lone Star Farm is part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. It’s strategically placed to help improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay itself, and the Beilers are committed to this conservation plan because they want to see the bay–and the region’s water systems as a whole– flourish.