Event highlights sustainable farm practices

By Katie Demeria

Shenandoah County’s Virginia Cooperative Extension will soon allow the public to see a project staff has been working on for over four years that is designed to benefit both farmers and landowners: the Shenandoah County Sustainable Farm Demonstration.

The reveal coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Smith-Lever Act, according to a news release, which allowed for the extension’s creation.

On Saturday, the Extension Farm and Family Showcase will celebrate both the demonstration and the anniversary from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Shenandoah County Park in Maurertown, on Park Lane. The event is free and open to the public.

According to Bobby Clark,unit coordinator and extension agent, the sustainable farm demonstration is an example of exactly what the extension was created to do: provide the most recent research and resources to local farmers and landowners.

“The landowner-farmer relationship is very critical,” Clark said.

Most farmers rent the land they work, according to Clark.

“And when you have these situations where you have a farmer and a landowner, often it becomes difficult for both the farmer and the landowner to get on the same page as far as following best management practices, with both parties remaining financially whole for long periods of time,” he said.

The demonstration, according to Clark, is designed to showcase environmentally sound practices that will both provide a profit to the farmer and allow the land to remain sustainable for the landowner.

The Shenandoah County Farm has been updated to demonstrate some of the practices that would achieve those goals, Clark said.

According to a progress report Clark provided, 4,307 feet of fencing was built between the farm and the Shenandoah County Park and 6,360 feet of interior fencing was constructed to improve grazing management.

The work prevented cattle from accessing a pond and stream, as well, which are environmentally sound practices, according to Clark — as is no-till farming, which the demonstration is also using.

Soon an overgrown pasture on the farm will be rejuvenated, as well.

“Sometimes fences will get worn out and nobody wants to replace the fences, so the pasture gets overgrown and it just goes back to brush,” he said. “And then the landowner loses revenue and the farmers lose the ability to run livestock somewhere.”

The challenges in achieving these types of sustainable practices are usually related to finances, but Clark said it is also a matter of encouraging the landowner to look at the long term.

“Another thing we’re demonstrating is a 10-year lease on the Shenandoah County Farm,” Clark said. “In the world of leasing farmland, that is a very long-term lease. We will be working with landowners over the next few years to help them understand how to do more long-term leases so they can see improvements on their land.”

The event will provide hayrides onto the county farm, allowing visitors to see exactly how the extension’s work is benefiting the land.

“The landowner really doesn’t need to know how to plant corn, but they want to know how to take care of their land, and most of them want to be financially whole, and to make a little money — that’s really important,” Clark said.

“And we’re doing that by using things like managed grazing, rejuvenating an old pasture, no-till farming and participating in cost share programs, as well as some good, old-fashioned ingenuity,” he added.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com