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Success Stories Featured Customer Nomination - Dave Johnson | Virginia

Virginia NRCS Featured Customer Nomination

Name: Dave Johnson
Location: Glade Spring, Virginia
Operation: Dairy Farm
PAS: Pat Paul, (804) 287-1681, pat.paul@va.usda.gov

Dave Johnson.Highland Dairy sits amidst the rolling hills and meandering streams of Washington County. Dave Johnson operates the farm that was started by his father in 1965. It's a family operation. The farm covers 1100 acres in the Three Creeks Watershed. Dairy farming has been a major enterprise in this region, but the number of dairies has declined due to competition from urban and recreation development. However, Dave is a dedicated conservationist whose excellent management and stewardship has allowed the dairy to grow and thrive.

The Johnson farm is not only a model conservation farm, but a training ground for future conservationists. Working with NRCS, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Holston Soil and Water Conservation District and others, Dave participated in a pilot project to use some new techniques to stabilize eroding stream banks. He installed rock riprap, fascines and cedar revetments along the streams and excluded livestock from all the streams on the property. He then installed two 2600 gallon reservoirs to provide an alternative water source for his cows and planted riparian buffers along the streams to filter out pollutants from crop fields. Each year students from the local college and nearby schools visit the farm to monitor water quality in the streams and learn about different conservation practices.

Dave received the Governor's Clean Water Farm Award in recognition of his conservation efforts. This award is given annually to one farmer in each of 9 river basins for their efforts to install nutrient management and conservation practices that reduce agricultural pollution to the state's waterways. He was also recognized by the Virginia Forage and Grassland Council for his outstanding forage production. Everything was seemed to be going well--until he discovered a leak in his waste storage pit.

With help from NRCS and the conservation district, he installed a waste management system that would allow him to store and recycle nutrients from his 500 cow operation, safely and efficiently. The system included a 1.2 acre storage pond, a 75,000 gallon collection basin, and a solids separator. Water flushed from the barns drains to the collection box, where solids and liquids are separated. The solids are stored on a covered platform and directly applied to the land according to a nutrient management plan. The liquids are piped to the pond and then underground to crop fields where it is applied using a traveling big gun irrigation system. Cost-sharing for the project was provided through EQIP, the state Best Management Practices program and the Fish & Wildlife Service.

Dave is always adding to his operation and improving his systems. Recently he installed a pack barn to improve the comfort level for his herd. The pack barn has a concrete pad on one side of the barn where the animals are fed. Manure deposited in this area is flushed to a separator and the water recycled. The other side of the barn has a dirt floor covered with sawdust where the cows can lay down and rest. Cycling cows through the pack barn reduces health problems.

Water quality is important to the Johnson family. Dave says, "We do a lot of kayaking and we have seen good and bad streams. That's why I bought 20 acres I didn's need-- so I could protect both sides of the stream. My Dad thought this was the prettiest place on earth. I want it to be that way when I pass the farm on to my daughters." He is one step closer to his dream since his oldest daughter graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in dairy science and came back to work on the farm.