Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Conservationists from Across the Northeastern United States Convene in Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Written by: Linda Brownson, Grafton County

This July, Representatives from the northeastern United States traveled to the DoubleTree Resort in Lancaster for the National Association of Conservation District’s (NACD) Northeast Regional Meeting. Conservation leaders from the 12 northeastern states met for educational programs, tours, and networking. New Hampshire was represented by NACD Board member and NH Delegate Linda Brownson, joined by NHACD President Richard Mellor. Also present from NH at this gathering was our USDA-NRCS State Conservationist, Rick Ellsmore. It is always exciting to participate in a meeting that brings our counterparts from other northeastern states together. We share many of the same natural resource issues and concerns and can learn from each other on how to best address them. Pennsylvania conservation districts went all out to showcase some of their district projects via tours and educational sessions. Some of the highlights of this trip follows.

We learned about the Dirt, Gravel, and Low Volume Road Program, unique to Pennsylvania apparently, which helps decrease pollution from unpaved roads. Living on a dirt road myself, I wanted to know more about it! Amazingly enough, Pennsylvania conservation districts administer $28 million annually through the state’s DGLVR Program. The program provides local road-owning entities with grant funding to complete projects with a focus on environmental improvements
to their roads. Improvements include improving ditch stability, adding crosspipes, filling entrenched roads, improving road base, managing wetlands and stream crossings, road surfacing, and more.

Both Richard and I chose the Conservation and Soil Health in Agriculture session on Monday, followed by two tours the following day. This conservation session complements much of what we are doing with our Soil Health Working Group in NH. We learned about general soil health principles such as evaluating soil properties like soil structure, aggregate stability, infiltration, and the role of
conservation practices such as cover cropping and no-till in a cropping system. Though many of the principles are familiar to us, because of the emphasis on soil health in our state, still there is a lot to learn in a different location, different soils, and different district activities in assisting the farmers to improve their soil health. Following the classroom session on Soil Health, the next day Richard and I visited two different farms in Lancaster County: one, the Brubaker Farm, a dairy farm with 1,100 cows on 1,800 acres. They ship 82,000 pounds of milk per day in a state-of-the-art operation. Among other things, they employ a methane digester, a manure separator, and practice drag hosing with a 1-1/2 mile reach. This 3 generation farm is all no-till and grows corn, soybeans, alfalfa, rye, and
wheat and a model for well-implemented conservation practices.

The second visit was to an Amish (called ‘Plain Sect’) farm in Lancaster County. About 68% of the land in this county is farmed and approximately half are farmed by the Amish. They are a Christian, Anabaptist group characterized by separation from the world and simple living, including plain dress and transporting themselves by horse and buggy. They are reluctant to adopt many of the conveniences of modern technology and forbid taking electricity from the grid. Why do they fear technology? If left untamed, certain technologies (like automobiles, computers, cellphones) might harm their community by disrupting traditions and bringing foreign values through mass media. Electricity from batteries is more local, controllable, and independent from the outside world.
The farm Richard and I visited used battery power to drive the fans in the barn. Many use propane gas to light their homes. Some of the more ‘progressive’ sects employ solar panels to charge batteries, though the more traditional groups forbid it.

Thus, it was interesting to see how they managed their farm with so many cultural compromises. Not surprisingly, the Amish dairy farms have fewer cows. The fields are planted and harvested using teams of horses or mules. I was told that the sect leaders worry that using tractors for field work would lead to full-scale mechanization and destruction of small family farms, in which all members
of the family take part. Amish families have normally 7-12 children, providing many farmhands!

Yet, their communities are thriving! In Lancaster County, the number of Amish Church Districts (each district comprised of 25-35 families) totaled 46 in 1970, population 7,500. Last year, the number of church districts totaled 220 with a population of 37,000. This is expected to double in twenty years. Interestingly, we were able to visit an Amish Farm because of the trusting relationship that has developed between the Lancaster County Conservation District and the Amish population. The District employs a full-time staff person solely as a ‘liason’ between the Amish and the ‘outside world!’ The Amish apparently do not participate in accepting money from the government, but they do accept technical assistance and, in this County, that TA mostly focuses on
helping the farmer control pollution.

There are 1400 miles of streams in Lancaster County and ½ of them are impaired. In 2016, the State started penalizing farms that don’t have conservation plans. Being so close to Chesapeake Bay with its focus on improving water quality, Pennsylvania has been slow to the table in cleaning up
their streams, using a top-down approach, according to John Chibirka, Resource Soil Scientist with NRCS in Lancaster County. Now they are immersed in phase III of WHIP, a bottom-up approach in which districts play a dominant role. Lancaster County now has 55% compliance with conservation plans. The District mantra is: “Everyone has a role in cleaning up our water.”

Friday, January 5, 2018

Recap: NH Cover Crop Forum

The November 2017 Cover Crop Forum was a great success as farmers and technical service providers came together to talk about the latest in cover cropping science, and most importantly, what’s working  for real farmers in real fields! The suite of knowledgeable and experienced speakers included Natalie Lounsbury, a PhD student at the University of New Hampshire, Brandon Smith, PhD, the Natural Resources Conservation Service Soil Health Division Northeast Team Leader, and Dorn Cox, PhD, a farmer in Lee New Hampshire, Conservation District Board member and founding member of the nonprofit GreenStart.

The program was split between presentations from UNH faculty, NRCS, and area farmers in the morning, and a farmer-to-farmer discussion facilitated by Dr. Eric Sideman of MOFGA in the afternoon. There were a total of 31 participants, including farmers and ag service providers. Morning presentations focused on integrating cover crops with vegetable rotations for organic operations, an update on the cover crop mixes developed by NH Soil Health Working Group, and farmer adoption of cover cropping techniques. Discussion in the afternoon centered on topics identified by participants, including species selection, integrating with cash crops, and special pest management considerations.

This forum was brought to Concord by the New Hampshire Cover Crop Team and funded by the SARE Northeast Region.

For more information on related initiatives, please see the links below:

Follow the NH Cover Crop Team on social media with #nhcovercrops

Check out this soil health podcast by Natalie Lounsbury: http://

Monday, December 18, 2017

David Montgomery, Author of Growing a Revolution, interviews with Civil Eats

Last month, David Montgomery joined us and Cheshire County Conservation District at our Annual Meeting in Keene, NH. We are so glad he could join us at our annual event; below are some events and interviews David has done since joining us in November.

Since our meeting, David has had a few appearances at conference around the US including the Bionutrient Association Soil & Nutrition Conference, and the National Cover Crop Conference in Indiana.

Civil Eats has done a few interviews with David about his latest book, Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life.

Click here to read Excerpt: Giving the Plow the Boot in the Era of Climate Change

Click here to read The Soil Champion Who Might Who Might Hold the Key to a Hopeful Climate Future

Monday, November 27, 2017

We've Got it CoveredI

Keep an eye out for these signs around the state
They mark places where farmers are using cover
crops to help improve soil health and water quality.
This sign is at the Cheshire County Farm in
Westmoreland, where Windyhurst Dairy is testing
a new blend of cover crops.

Two Cheshire County farms are among about a dozen around the state who have volunteered to serve as guinea pigs in the development of specialized cover crop seed blends. Windyhurst Dairy Farm in Westmoreland and Pete’s Stand in Walpole are trying out blends of cover crops that will serve specific needs of different types of farms and crops.

Cover crops are planted during parts of the year when a main crop is not growing. As their name implies, they keep the soil covered, but they also provide a number of other benefits, including:
  • Preventing erosion by rain and wind
  • Feeding the living organisms in the soil that help make nutrients available to the next crop
  • Harvesting and storing nutrients from the soil and air
  • Increasing the amount of rainfall that’s absorbed into the farm’s soil, reducing runoff to nearby streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds

    The most widely used cover crop is winter rye, a cereal grain that grows vigorously in the fall and early spring. While it’s a great general purpose cover crop, its benefits can be enhanced by mixing it with other crops, such as:
  • Crimson clover, to harvest nitrogen from the air and make it available to crops
  • Daikon radish, to create channels deep in the soil to allow water to penetrate
  • Brassicas such as turnips and rape to hold onto soil nutrients over the winter
  • Oats, winter wheat, and barley to hold the soil in place through rains, wind, and snow melt.

Less than a month after being planted, this cover
crop mix is helping to hold soil in place during the
heavy rainstorms at the end of October. This field
is at the Cheshire County Farm where Windyhurst
Dairy is testing a new blend of cover crops.
Windyhurst and Pete’s Stand have set aside parts of their production fields to test specialized blends of cover crops that are intended to target the specific needs of dairies that grow silage corn, and for vegetable producers who harvest some of their crops a little earlier in the season.

    The New Hampshire Soil Health Working Group, with representatives of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service of the USDA, UNH Cooperative Extension, the New Hampshire Association of Conservation Districts, Granite State Graziers, and agricultural professionals, will monitor the plots and get feedback from these operations about how these blends worked for them.

    That feedback will help the group develop better cover crop blends, which in turn will New Hampshire farmers build better soils. Thanks to Pete’s Stand and Windyhurst for cooperating with this effort!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Fall Bulb Sales Across NH

Below are links and information for the Fall Bulb Sales Across the state. Deadline for order forms is September 11th!! 

Fill out order form and mail with payment to BCCD, 64 Court Street, Laconia, NH  03246.  Your purchase helps support conservation efforts in Belknap County.
Click on the document titles to download the information.

Pick up at CCCD Office: Monday, October 2nd, 8am-6:30pm; Tuesday, Oct. 3rd, 8am-1pm or contact us to set up a time. A reminder will be sent out when bulbs arrive.

Bulb pick up days are September 25th and 26th from 7:30am - 3:30pm at the office in Lancaster. If either of these days don't work for you, please contact us to arrange a different time. 

*Website is currently having difficulties* To receive an order form and color flier showcasing the flowers available, contact the district office 673-2409, ext. 100, e-mail or visit

Pick up will be the last weekend in September.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

2017 Envirothon Recap

This year, NH sent a team from Conant High School in Jaffrey to the North American Competition, held July 23-29 in Emmitsbrug, Maryland.

This year's challenge topic was Agricultural Soil and Water Conservation Stewardship. Teams researched agricultural BMPs that would be appropriate for NH farms. They contacted the NH Conservation District office in their county to determine one or more local farms to be the focus of their study.  Using the Web Soil Survey and Granite View II, the teams mapped existing soils and land use.  They then established what BMPs are currently implemented at their focus area by interviewing the farmers responsible for implementation and maintenance of the BMPs.  Team then recommended other BMPs that could be implemented at the location to improve ecological, economic, and/or social conditions.  The recommended BMPs were required to include a cost-benefit analysis.

At the North American Competition, students took part in three jam-packed days of area tours, meals, and study sessions. All culminating in oral presentations and a final awards ceremony on Friday.

First place went to Pencrest High School in Media, Pennsylvania. Congratulations to all the teams that made it to this competition and thank you to all the teachers, volunteers and staff for your time and effort this year! Looking forward to the 2018 competition!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

No-Till Corn Planting

For generations, the cycle of growing corn to feed cattle has been pretty much the same: every spring farmers spread the winter’s accumulation of manure on the corn fields, plow them under, and smooth them out with harrows before planting the season’s corn.

Stuart Adams of Windyhurst Farm in Westmoreland plants corn directly into a cover crop of winter
rye using NHACD's no-till corn planter back in May.

Plowing and harrowing acres and acres for corn every spring is an expensive proposition. And more and more we’re realizing that it’s really hard on our soil and our environment. Corn can be planted without tilling the soil first. No-till corn offers lots of benefits to the environment and farmers. For example, no-till corn:

  • Improves soil health by leaving a covering of mulch, making it more resilient to drought and less prone to erosion during heavy storms.
  • Reduces soil surface compaction, which helps keep nutrients from getting washed into nearby streams and rivers and keeps them where the corn crop can use them.
  • Cuts down on the amount of fuel that farmers need to burn to get their corn crops started, not to mention labor and wear and tear on equipment.
  • Allows farmers to plant directly into a green, living cover crop, keeping living plant roots in the soil -- key for a healthy soil ecosystem.

But it takes a specially-outfitted corn planter that most farmers in New Hampshire don’t have. With funding from a Conservation Innovation Grant from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the New Hampshire Association of Conservation Districts purchased three no-till corn planters this spring that will give farmers a chance to try no-till corn.

With a single trip across the field, these planters:
  • Roll down the cover crop, breaking the stems and stopping their growth so it doesn’t compete with the corn crop for water and nutrients
  • Open a furrow that’s just the right depth for planting corn
  • Apply a small amount of fertilizer to help the seedling get started
  • Set the corn seed at the proper depth and spacing
  • Close the furrow over the seeds and gently firm the soil to ensure good seed-to-soil contact

No-till corn looking robust in late June. Note the mulch left behind
by the winter rye. The mulch will help hold moisture and keep the soil cool during the hot summer months.
Using the planters from the NHACD, farmers can try no-till corn planting without making a huge investment in retrofitting their current planters or replacing them. We have one of the test fields right here in Cheshire County, and we’ll be watching it to see how it does compared with traditionally-planted corn alongside it. So far it looks great!

For more information on no-till corn planters, contact Bill Fosher with the NHACD at