Some simple measures make significant improvements on some grazing land alongside Keshequa Creek.
Phil Race retired to his property south of Rochester, New York, planning to spend his time in his 200-acre woodlot. When Phil came into the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Geneseo Field Office in 2009 to see what was available for his forest land, he had no idea how his life would change.
When Jo Beth Bellanca, NRCS District Conservationist, visited the property to inventory the woodlot, she was more concerned with the condition of Phil’s cropland, which Phil rented out to a local farmer. There were a few ephemeral gullies, causing soil erosion with sediment leaving the property and entering a neighbor’s pond. Additionally, excessive tillage resulted in very poor soil health. The soil looked like dust and there was no sign of earthworms.
Before leaving, and every time she saw Phil after that, Jo Beth would mention with a smile that Phil “should really get some cows and convert that land to permanent grass.”
Fortunately, Phil’s partner Sharon Pierce had a strong interest in regenerative agriculture and soil and water quality, and in 2014, with Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) funding, they embarked on the journey to convert their conventionally farmed cropland to permanent grasslands. They now raise 20 Red Devon beef cattle, four Large Black hogs, and a flock of hens on the former cropland.
Phil and Sharon say that they are ”grass farmers.” Their primary goal was to heal the land, with a secondary goal of producing healthy, safe meat on their healthy land. They graze their cattle nine to ten months a year by setting aside several acres for winter grazing. The hogs are grazed during most of the growing season, and those pastures are then planted to deep-rooting cover crops such as radish, rye, and clover to heal any damage and to provide another forage crop.
The erosion has been eliminated, and every year the soil quality improves. The neighbor’s pond, which was built in the headwaters of the Keshequa Creek--a GLRI Phosphorus Priority watershed--is no longer green with algae or cloudy with sediment.
This year, another neighbor approached Phil and Sharon to see if they would be interested in helping her with her eroding cropland. Again using GLRI funds, they were able to plant 23 acres of permanent hay to permanently cover highly erodible cropland They also repaired a gully, using NRCS technical assistance and their own funds, which had been getting deeper every year.
In total, over 50 acres of eroding cropland was planted to permanent grass using GLRI funds. The improvement in soil quality on the farm and water quality in the Keshequa Creek watershed is visible. It looks like friendly reminders—and some well-done grass farming—have made all the difference.