Tomorrow, Wednesday, Aug. 8, New York's 19th annual Agricultural Environmental Management Award will be presented to Patterson Farms of Auburn, N.Y. Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District will also be honored during American Agriculturist's N.Y. Ag Leadership Luncheon ceremonies at Empire Farm Days.
The AEM award aims to recognize and boost public awareness of all that New York State farmers are doing to preserve the environment. It's jointly sponsored by N.Y. Department of Ag and Markets, Empire State Potato Growers and American Agriculturist magazine.
Recognizing Connie Patterson, son Jon and daughter-in-law Julie, N.Y. Commissioner of Agriculture Darrel Aubertine said the family "is a superb role model of personal environmental stewardship and resourceful innovation. We're pleased to honor this farm and their conservation district for their assistance."
Patterson Farms was one of the first to utilize crop consultants as part of the state's AEM program. The family has hosted countless conservation tours drawing visitors from numerous states and countries. This dairy farm has also participated in industry studies and Cornell University research projects aimed at improving dairy farm profitability.
Jon and Connie Patterson were involved in developing the Department of Environmental Conservation's Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations regulations. In 2009, the farm was one of four U.S. sites receiving U.S. EPA's Energy Star Combined Heat and Power Award. Exemplary farm management also earned them Cayuga County's "Farmers partnering to protect our environment" award in 2010
Dairying, animal care and environmentalism come together
This dairy was one of the first to get involved in New York State's Cattle Health Assurance Program. "We're fine with having a third party certifying our [animal care and welfare] protocols," confirmed Connie. Patterson Farms' mission is: "To be a well-diversified, profitable agricultural business . . . based on core values: safety, animal care, integrity and the environment."
"When we milked 100 cows," reflected Jon, "that wasn't what I wanted to do." So, he and his mother set out to change it.
Over the last 20 years, Patterson Farms grew from a small dairy into a concentrated animal feeding operation milking 1,050 cows. Today's 1,900-head dairy enterprise is intertwined with a 2,700-acre diversified crop operation and hooked up to a 405-kilowatt capacity biogas (methane) power system.
"You can't be involved in dairying without a strong environmental focus on crops," emphasized Connie. "It has to be integrated and balanced. We know we can have positive economic and environmental benefits and still do what we want to do," she added.
What neighbors in more than 100 nearby non-farm homes think of Patterson Farms manure spreading is important to them. "We and what we do are very visible," explained Julie. "We want our neighbors to see us as persons, not a business."
"At one time, all dairy farms around here were spreading manure on the first day of October. But that had to change," contended Jon. With the help of state and federal grants, the complete-mix anaerobic digester and two generators now supply most of the farm's electrical needs and allow them to sell energy back to the grid.
Here are some of key elements helping this farm surpass New York's Ag Environmental Management standards:
* Manure solids are separated and recycled for freestall barn bedding.
* Crop diversification with corn, alfalfa, grass hay, wheat, triticale, oat and tillage radish cover crops, plus willow biomass allow summer-time incorporation of digested manure with a less offensive musty odor.
* Corn is no-tilled or strip-tilled while wheat is no-tilled. Cover crops are broadcasted immediately after corn harvest, followed by manure application. Manure can also be surface-applied before corn emergence.