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Conservation is a Constant, Not a Trend

The significant conservation work that Richard Swartzentruber (Swartz) implements on his organic farm might go unnoticed by the untrained passerby. The implemented practices blend naturally into his agricultural landscape, progressively improving the health of the soil, water quality, animals, and plants.

Swartz is the 4th generation owner of his family’s organic farm, Swartzentruber Homestead in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. He currently raises “custom” organic heifers and grows organic corn, alfalfa, soybeans, small grain, and pasture grasses.  

Swartz’ working relationship with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) spans 15 years and several changes. He first worked with NRCS to install a hoop structure for his poultry manure in 1998 and then a liquid manure storage tank for his commercial dairy operation in 2002. Together, these practices eliminated the potential for water to reach the manure and runoff into nearby streams.  Swartz has continued to work with NRCS through his transition to USDA Certified Organic—which he maintains today.  Swartz says it’s for good reason.  “I’m always looking for ways to better manage what I have and be more environmentally friendly and NRCS has been most helpful.”

Swartz continues to implement and expand upon recommended conservation practices. His recent work includes:

  • New roof structure over his concrete pads and waste storage structure for his custom heifers,
  • Proper rotation of his crops for improved soil quality, utilization of nutrients, and reduction of pests and weeds;    
  • Planting of 40 acres of cover crops to reduce disturbance of the soil for improved soil health;  
  • Planting of organic hay for forage for on-farm use,
  • Proper nutrient management through the implementation and continuation of his NRCS grazing management plan. This includes frequent rotations of his herd through small paddocks—allowing them to naturally harvest the alfalfa and native grasses and properly fertilize his crops.  

Swartz’ extensive history with NRCS has resulted in improvements in the aesthetics and management of the operation, but most importantly, it is the improvement of natural resources that benefit him, his animals, and the community. “Part of my philosophy of life is this: God’s given us a lot of good things, and it’s not up to us to waste it. It’s to use it to the best of our ability…take care of it—be it the nutrients, the water, the soil, or anything.”

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