Efficiency is Good Business for W.Va. Farm

2/15/2014 7:00 AM
By Shannon Sollinger Virginia Correspondent

MIDDLEWAY, W.Va. — Meadow Green Farm, a few miles from Charles Town, is a lot of things, but mostly it’s efficient. Efficiency, it turns out, is good business and good for the land and its resources. Proof of that is the 2013 West Virginia Conservation Farm of the Year plaque awarded to Meadow Green — the best conservation farm in West Virginia for 2013.

The award recognizes the farm for its decades-long commitment to reduce fertilizer use and to reduce and contain runoff.

Meadow Green Farm has been in the Grantham family for eight generations — long before there was a West Virginia — and today produces hay and raises beef cattle and trout under the stewardship of William “Bill” White Grantham, his wife Kerry, and nephew Andrew Upright.

Last June, judges from state and federal conservation agencies and from West Virginia University pointed to Meadow Green as the best conservation farm in Jefferson County. Then came the district award — best in Jefferson, Morgan and Berkeley counties. Then best in the Eastern Panhandle area. And finally, best in the state.

West Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture Walt Hemick, who presented the award in October, pointed to the farm’s history and “the way they have diversified their operation.”

Barbie Elliott, conservation specialist with the Eastern Panhandle Conservation District in Martinsburg, helped put the award application together and got it through the layers of competition. The Granthams were practicing good stewardship before adding a plethora of best management practices and other soil- and water-friendly practices to their farm, Elliott said. They also take full advantage of multiple cost-share and conservation programs funded by the county, state and federal governments.

Meadow Green’s practices have included establishment of a wetland conservation area, fenced off from cattle and planted with native trees and shrubs; strict rotational grazing, with cattle moving to new pasture every four days; and nutrient management. Even the trout, a project that started in 1993, contribute to the fertilizer pile.

Grantham and Upright have also mastered the art of using their resources efficiently and taking advantage of the natural behaviors of both land and livestock — cows double as nutrient managers, wasps eat flies (no pesticides needed) and cattle help reseed bare spots.

Criteria for the award include the farmer’s understanding of and commitment to “total resource management,” commitment to installing and maintaining a conservation plan and best management practices, protection of off-site resources, personal contribution to the farm and leadership in community conservation efforts.

The Meadow Green team does all that and more. Bill Grantham and Upright tend to the farming while Kerry Grantham keeps track of mountains of paperwork.

Bill Grantham, the eighth generation of Grantham to farm this land — a boggling number of Granthams including his neighbor and cousin, Bill Gibson Grantham, have been named Bill — and Upright use about 70 of the 200 acres to raise 65 Angus-Hereford brood cows and their calves and another 70 acres for hay. The cattle pastures are divided into 34 separate paddocks. One person can move the cattle to a new area by shifting the easily moveable temporary fencing.

“The perimeter is permanently fenced and is electrified,” reads the family’s submission for the Jefferson County award. “The cross-fencing is temporary poly-wire fencing, with step-in posts that is attached to the perimeter fencing, thus electrifying the cross-fence without the need for extra chargers. One person can change the paddocks by undoing the temporary fence and placing it at its new location. Since there are 4,800 feet of temporary fence, that makes day-to-day operations very easy and user friendly since the cattle are rotated about every four days depending on pasture size and stocking rates.”

And the cows do double duty as nutrient managers. Upright uses GPS mapping of the soil samples they take every year and can point to any patch of any paddock that needs more nitrogen or phosphorous or lime.

Bill Grantham and Upright spread chicken manure when needed, but with the exception of lime, they haven’t had to buy fertilizer for years.

Three years ago, they worked with the Conservation Resource Enhancement Program, or CREP, to fence close to seven acres of wetland off from the livestock and plant it with nearly 900 trees and shrubs — 34 different species, all native to the area. As the plantings mature, no nutrients leave the farm to drain into nearby Lake Louise, and with no cattle traffic, no silt enters the waterways. The CREP program includes rental payments for acres taken out of ag production.

Water from Meadow Green Farm drains into Lake Louise — filled by a 35-gallon-per-minute spring — just over the fence from one of his pastures. Water from the lake goes to Turkey Run, which drains into Opequon Creek, which drains into the Shenandoah River, Potomac River, and eventually, the Chesapeake Bay.

This summer, they hardened a trail the cows use to get from the only two paddocks that don’t have their own water to the trough near the house and barn.

“We put down fabric paper and 525 tons of stone,” Bill Grantham said. “Now, they barely leave a footprint. There’s no disturbance of the soil.”

The BMPs implemented so far include 7.5 miles of high-tensile fence for rotational grazing; seven watering troughs; 225 feet of animal trails and walkways; 900 feet of pipeline; an acre of heavy- use protection; three calf sheds; a livestock handling facility; and a hydraulic chute with digital scales for checking cows and preweaning calves. Another 1,100 feet of animal trails and walkways, 600 feet of pipeline and another watering trough are all scheduled to be installed.

Meadow Green has also enrolled in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative, which offers assistance to producers to minimize delivery of nutrients and sediment to the bay.

Upright started purchasing parasitic wasps to control flies, which nearly eliminated the need for pesticides. They bring in 5,000 larvae every two weeks from April 22 through Sept. 22. The wasps happily dine on fly larvae and young flies, reducing the fly population by 90 percent.

When they’re not tending to cows and calves, Bill Grantham and Upright are turning out 700 round bales of hay — orchard grass, smooth brome and clover. Grantham color-codes each bale for type of hay, which field it grew in and what the weather conditions were when it was harvested. He sends samples from each lot to Dairy One Forage Laboratory in Ithaca, N.Y., and gives every buyer a complete nutritional analysis of the hay.

Speaking of efficiency, they add alfalfa seed to the litter buggy when spreading poultry litter. The seed germinates faster and they get a better, stronger, late-season crop.

Meadow Green Farm has also participated in the USDA-NRCS Agricultural Management Assistance Program since 2007, and cost-share and incentive payments help the farm address water quality and erosion control. They have applied 247 tons of poultry litter to 10 fields across the farm under the program’s guidelines — the hay is higher quality and demand is up.

In 1992, Bill Grantham read that the commissioner of agriculture had some grant money for fish raising. He applied for a grant and won, and by 1993 he was raising 5,000 trout a season in 10 300-gallon recirculating aquaculture vats. The trout venture is labor intensive — fingerlings are hand-fed seven times a day, seven days a week, and the water and temperature are under constant scrutiny — and regulated by five different state and federal agencies.

“I have a food handlers license from West Virginia, a DNR permit to raise trout, five or six more permits,” Bill Grantham said. He estimates half of his trout-farming time is working with the fish, while the other half involves paperwork. But each 1.5-pound trout becomes a 1-pound flash-frozen filet, selling for $10 a pound at the farmers markets, $7.50 at the farm.

He gets the fingerlings from the USDA National Center for Cool and Cold Water Aquaculture in Leetown, and contributes to the center’s research of genetics, molecular biology, physiology, fish health and environmental engineering to develop a strain of rainbow trout suited to aquaculture.

The trout operation is also efficient and clean. Overflow water, full of leftover feed and trout manure, flows to a tank just outside the building — once home to his father’s hog operation. At least 60 percent of the water recirculates and he separates out the waste for use as manure. The cleaned water flows to a grassy strip and into the CREP wetland. Meadow Green Farm is moving on with projects to cut waste and improve conservation. Bill Grantham has kept his own beef records since he started in the early 1990s. This year, he started sending DNA samples to a lab to be sure he’s keeping the best replacement heifers. Several more waterers — all underground piping surrounded by a gravel pad — are also going in.

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