CLARA AYER: EARTH DAY IS EVERY DAY ON OUR DAIRY FARM
Editor’s note: This commentary is by Clara Ayer on behalf of Fairmont Farm. She is a third-generation dairy farmer at Fairmont Farm Inc., which has two East Montpelier farms and one in Craftsbury. Fairmont currently employs 40 full-time and part-time employees and is a member of Cabot Creamery Cooperative.
More than one billion people will celebrate Earth Day all around the world on April 22. Here in Vermont on our dairy farm we treat every day like Earth Day.
Our mission at Fairmont Farm is to be a profitable dairy farm with the utmost consideration for the safety and happiness of our people, the cleanliness of our environment and the health of our animals.
We are responsible for over 3,600 acres of land which is used to plant and harvest corn and hay to feed our cows. We have worked with the Vermont Land Trust and currently own 1,675 acres of conserved land, however the best way to preserve land is to keep farms in business – our farm fields cover East Montpelier, Plainfield, Marshfield, Barre, Berlin, Calais, Montpelier, Craftsbury, Glover, Greensboro and South Albany.
Soil health is crucial to the health of our water and food supply. When a farm field is left bare, the topsoil can get blown away by the wind or washed away by the rain. We keep our soils in place by covering our fields with plants all year long. In the spring, we plant our corn. It grows through the summer and is harvested in the fall. Then, in the fall we plant a protective cover crop like the cereal grain winter-rye that grows through the winter. This keeps the soil in place through the snow melts and spring rains. Each 1 percent increase in healthy soil organic matter helps the soil hold 25,000 more gallons of water per acre.
Our corn and cover crops are planted without tilling up the soil, we leave the land intact and plant the seeds directly into the ground through any existing vegetation. When the soil is undisturbed the healthy root systems, the worms and the bugs all help the soil to retain nutrients much better while also doing the tillage work themselves, creating pathways for the water and nutrients to be absorbed. There are added benefits too – less equipment trips over the field which reduces soil compaction and fuel usage.
In 2016 we began piping manure to many of our fields instead of trucking it. Manure is transported to the fields through a pipeline hose that is connected to a tractor in the field and either spread or injected directly into the soil, sometimes up to 12 inches underground, which protects water quality and improves soil health. This further reduces the equipment trips over the field but also reduces the road traffic again helping with soil compaction and fuel consumption.
And, when you look out on the beautiful fields and open spaces of Vermont, remember the dairy farmers who are working hard to protect our most important natural resources.