When the Vermont Clean Water Act was passed in 2015, small farms became subject to new regulations intended to protect waters of the state. These farms have been working to adapt, finding ways to balance productive farming and ensure nutrients are staying on the farm and not running off into nearby waterways.
Evelyn and Gordon Seymour started farming in Sutton in 1967, after leaving their small farm in Connecticut. They blended their first names and dubbed their farm “Evelon Farm,” which has stayed in the family since. Their son James Seymour eventually became the farm manager and still works the farm today with his brother, Alan Seymour, and his nephew, Kyle Seymour. Before starting work on the farm, Kyle attended Vermont Technical College and studied Dairy Farm Management. He studied innovations in the dairy industry, learned about federal and state farm assistance programs, and was introduced to new science and technologies behind the business. When he began working on the farm six years ago, he started thinking more about ways the farm could modernize, increase yields, and save money.
In 2016, Kyle worked with the Caledonia County Conservation District and signed up for their Nutrient Management Planning Assistance program when Nutrient Management Plans (NMPs) became required for small farms. The Conservation District helped the farm collect soil samples on all their fields, compiled new maps, and collected field data needed to take a class to develop their plan.
After completing the field work, Kyle attended UVM Extension’s “Digging In” class to write his NMP, which ran one day a week, starting in January, for six weeks. During the class, Kyle joined about 12 other farms and took a deep dive into his farm’s assets - analyzing the soil quality of his fields and the type and quantity of nutrients they were applying to grow crops. He learned some of their fields had a high nitrate leaching index, which meant nitrogen fertilizer applied to their fields might be leaching away and not be available to fertilize crops. He also learned the soil types and slopes on some of their fields had a high potential for soil loss. Not realizing they may have been losing precious soil and nutrient resources, he began working on how they could adapt and adjust the management of their fields.
Kyle talked with his uncle and they agreed to try no-till on their corn fields. After completing their second year of no-till, they found their corn yields were comparable to before - and they were saving on time and fuel costs. The other adjustment they made after developing their NMP was working to better target their nitrogen fertilizer. After learning his fields were likely to leach nitrogen, he realized applying urea at their usual amount per acre might not be the best approach. They now blend fertilizers and better target applications based on their soil sample results. After two years of this new approach they’ve noticed good returns on forage quality, their hay is showing a higher level of protein, and they’ve saved money on fertilizer.
Aside from their work on Nutrient Management, Kyle has also introduced other innovations on the farm. The farm recently installed rumination monitors on all their cows. At about $90 per ear tag plus the expense of the system, they’re now able to track each cow’s health, monitor their activity and how much their eating, and determine when a cow is ready to breed. This has helped improve their herd health, reduce medical costs, and reduce the cost of breeding. They’ve been able to get detection to nearly 100% without having to spend time monitoring the heard and checking every cow. Kyle believes this new system has already paid for itself with the savings its achieved.
Even with these new strategies, the farmers are keeping a close eye on things, particularly the weather. A soaking rain on a no-till field with unincorporated manure would be a problem. With weather becoming more unpredictable, sometimes the best laid plans don’t always work out. Still, Kyle thinks they’ve adjusted well so far and will continue to find ways to adapt.
For more information on developing or maintaining your Nutrient Management Plan, contact your local Conservation District or UVM Extension office.