What is sustainability? We use this word alot but does anyone really understand it? The definition on google is this: avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance. Ok that helps me understand it a little bit better.
The way I view sustainability on our farm, is taking good care of the land, water, and environment, so that we can have a safe and healthy place to live and be able to pass this earth and our land down to our children.
How do we do that? Well we have ALOT of help! The Clinton County Conservation District is a governement office that helps farmers with being sustainable in teaching them and helping them do it. We also participate in MAEAP (Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program). This program requires alot of documentation and site visit to be considered for. It is also totally 100% voluntary by the farmers. I have also sat on a panel and committee to help start some recycling programs in Michigan for dairy farmers.
So what do we actually do?? One thing that everyone is always concerned about is POOP. The cows do poop… if I could figure out how to make them stop, I would, but when nature calls… So we have manure pits on the farm. Pits where we scrape their poop (it is mostly a liquid slurry consistency…that may have been TMI!), and then it is stored in these pits until we can haul it out. The pits are extremely regulated and we have to have certain certified engineers draw them up before we can build them. Once the poop goes into the pits we have to take the levels on them weekly so that we know they will not overflow (o yea and did I mention we figure in the rain and we have a 2 year overflow rate in there as well). As part of the MAEAP program we also have to keep manure records. The manure has valuable nutrients in it for the soil in the fields. In fact a lot of farmers wish they had manure so they didnt have to spend so much money on fertilizer! Thats one plus to all the POOP! When we haul the manure on the fields we have to keep track of every single load. The tractor drivers know which tank they have and keep track of how many loads they haul out. They also are in charge of writing down the wind speed, wind direction, temperature, and soil condidtions each day they haul. We also take samples of the POOP to know what the nutrients are and we only apply the amount of nutrients the field needs. (the math teacher was right, I should have listened more… haha).
We are also under GAAMPS, which stand for Generally Accepted Agricutlure and Management Practices. The state writes these and we have to follow them. We have to hire a certified person to write what is called a CNMP which stands for Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan. (We like acronyms). This is a GIANT book of a plan for everything environmental on the farm. This plan includes which crops we have on which acres, their soil samples, how much manure we can haul on them, engineered drawings of our farm, where the slope of the barn roofs go, how close the houses are around us, the powerlines, etc. etc. etc.
So, this all sounds like alot of paperwork. Yes that is very true. But as a farmer, I can tell you that I am taking the best care of the land that I possibly can. I have future generations that I want to see farm this land (hopefully Brody will farm this land one day). We plant cover crops, and try and reduce our tillage wherever possible (when mother nature allows us), we also try to conserve water and even put alot of money into water troughs for the cattle that will save water, and we reuse the water that cools down the milk for our cows to drink. We use technology that is designed to only put down spray where we need it using GPS and soil samples. We plan our crop rotations years out to make sure the land is getting the right rest when needed and the right nutrients back into the soil after different crops take out different nutrients. Tractors have begun using new technology that allows us to use MUCH less fuel, and fit into the fuel standards that the government has. We constantly do energy audits to make sure we are doing everything we can to save energy. There is alot that goes into sustainability. We are trying to do our best.
Sometimes things just dont go right. Faulty equipment, mother nature, accidents etc are all reasons. Things happen. We try to clean up spills if they happen ASAP, and to make sure we notify anyone and everyone that could be effected and we fix our mistakes every single time. Like they say “Shit Happens” (OK that may have been a really bad PUN), but farmers are trying their hardest along with all the help we have to make products for you and I to eat, while maintaining a healthy environment for us and the future generation.