My career with the Soil Conservation Service, now renamed the Natural Resources Conservation Service, spanned 27-plus years and three counties; Washington, Clinton and Essex. I have come to know most of the farmers in the Lake Champlain Valley, and many are personal friends. I have the deepest respect for their way of life; they are the true caretakers of the land!
Over the years, I have heard all the horror stories about hunters on their property, such as poaching, damaged fences, gates left open, garbage left behind, torn up wet fields by trucks, and trees cut down, so they could get a better view from their tree stand. And some hunters wonder why they can’t get permission to hunt farmland.
This is my view of farm life:
Spring is near, so planting season will be under way on nearby farms. The moldboard plow, chisel plow or other implements of tillage will be out scratching the earth’s back. Mechanical horse power supplied by diesel or in some cases, the real deal horse power of the Belgium will be the beast of burden. Once disked, the planter will do its job, placing the seed into the soil. Smooth as glass fields will be planted to corn, alfalfa, soybeans and grass hay crops. Apple trees have been winter pruned and fertilized for a new season’s bounty.
Land management practices such as manure spreading, fertilization, insect and weed control, are all part of the plan. The apple grower must have a quality product to sell. For dairy and beef operations, the goals are quality crops for milk and beef production. Natures’ curse of frost, floods, drought and pests, merge with humanities curse: taxes, breakdowns and labor shortages to plague the farmer’s ability to survive. Feeds must be stored and fed out all winter long to produce the milk, cheese, yogurt, grains, vegetables, sweet corn, apples, berries, and juicy steaks we all enjoy. A year’s worth of crops must be put up in our short growing season, so the farmer can earn a year’s worth of income. It all hinges on sunlight, soil, moisture, nutrients, animal health, mechanical skills and a farmer’s skill at multitasking all of the variables. Livelihoods depend on the heartbeat of the growing season.
Rich Redman is a retired District Conservationist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and an avid outdoorsman. His column will appear regularly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.