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Pike County Success Stories

Pike County Success Stories

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Bentoski (PDF) (235 KB) html

Pike County Landowner Believes In Protecting the Land

By Karen Buckley Washington, Lawrenceville

Pike County landowner, Tom Lacey, grew up on a farm in Iowa growing corn, soybeans and raising pigs, cattle and chickens. That tradition lives on for Lacey today.

After a short tour of duty in the U.S. Air Force, Lacey took a job at a small airport as an aircraft mechanic. During his free time, he took flying lessons, received his private pilot license and worked for Braniff Airlines (which later became Eastern Airlines) until he retired.

"Although I flew aircrafts for a living, I never got farming out of my blood," said Lacey. "I care about the land and water and enjoy producing something from these resources."

In addition to keeping ownership of part of the farm that he was raised on in Iowa, Lacey and his wife, Karen, purchased another small farm in Pike County in 1977. Lacey managed this 125 acre farm, which included approximately 20 head of cattle and another 20 head of goats, while still working full time as a pilot.

After noticing livestock using streams and wetlands for shade and water, Lacey saw a negative impact on the water and soil, namely fecal matter, sediment and erosion. Having worked with the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) (then Soil Conservation Service) while farming in Iowa, Lacey contacted the Service Center in Barnesville. District Conservationist Carmen Westerfield, assisted him in developing a conservation plan. Through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), Lacey installed heavy use areas for his cattle and cross fencing for rotational grazing. He also received incentives for tree planting, nutrient management, a well, pipeline and pasture planting.

"These practices made my farm operation more productive and environmentally sound," said Lacey.

Lacey retired from Eastern Airlines in 1990 to start farming full time, yet his commitment to conservation extends well beyond his own farm. He is currently a Conservation District Supervisor on the Towaliga Soil and Water Conservation District Board, a member of the Pike County Agribusiness Authority, President of Farm Bureau of Pike County and past Pike County Commissioner.

"We must protect land," said Lacey. "In order to ensure rich farm land for the next generation, it is our responsibility to protect it."

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Hoop House for Organics

In January 2010, the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), launched the high tunnel pilot study. If the use of high tunnels is effective in reducing pesticide use, keeping vital nutrients in the soil, extending the growing season, increasing yields, and providing other benefits to growers.
Dave Bentoski of D & A Farm in Zebulon is a firm believer in High Tunnels – also known as hoop houses. D & A Farm, a small organic operation, has been in operation since 2001. “There’s no doubt it’s a good production technique. For professional growers, they’re (High Tunnel) incredible,” Bentoski said.

The Farm has two full-time and two part-time employees managing some 80 different crop varieties. Different crops extend the production season throughout the year.

High Tunnels at a glance appear to be similar to common greenhouses. They produce a micro-climate like a common green house, but that’s where the similarity ends. Crops are planted in the ground of the high tunnel. The high tunnel is built over the crop. Irrigation is necessary and is applied through drip tape. The tunnel ends are opened and closed as needed to maintain proper air exchange and temperatures for optimum growing conditions.

While not a practice specific to organic farming, the practice has added to the operation by extending the growing season. Another benefit is crops that are not usually grown in our clay soils such as, carrots can be grown. Bentoski has discovered carrots need friable soils to germinate. Any crusting of the soil due to rain causes poor germination.

Bentoski first learn about the conservation technical assistance provided by the NRCS from talking with other producers and NRCS personnel.

District Conservationist for Pike County Carmen Westerfield had this to say. “When I first visited D & A Farm, I noticed how great the crops looked, but then I noticed erosion problems around edges of the fields and greenhouse and they had drainage issues that contributed to the erosion. Dave had not worked with the NRCS before and had no knowledge of the available technical assistance or of programs. It was a learning curve for me as I knew the specifications for critical area, but I had to make sure the recommendations fit within the organic program since Dave is certified organic. I didn’t want to recommend something that contradicted his certification. We were able to use organic fertilizer to meet the fertilizer needs and use standard grass seed since it wasn’t in the crop areas. He applied an erosion control blanket on the larger areas and used organic mulch on some smaller areas.”

“Dave is a beginning farmer and participates in other NRCS programs. He was approved for Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) in 2009 under the organic funding unit. With this contract, a conservation plan was developed. Cover crops and rotations were planned as well as critical area treatment. One of the most visible improvements was the critical areas. Drainage and erosion around fields and buildings were becoming problematic,” said Westerfield.

Westerfield worked with Bentoski and developed a grading plan to alleviate the problem areas. She also looked at old aerial photography, scheduled a field visit with Jim Lathem, soil scientist and assisted Bentoski in locating additional acreage to bring into production.

“Dave has been very active promoting organic farming as well as locally grown produce. He serves on local Pike County Farm Bureau, Board of Directors; Georgia Organics, Board of Directors; Pike Agribusiness Authority, Vice Chairman Board of Directors; Morningside Farmers Market, President Board of Directors; as well as in the organic mentoring program. He gave a presentation at Georgia Association of Conservation District Supervisors in 2010, hosted a district tour with the Towaliga Soil and Water Conservation District as well as a number of other groups such as local farm groups, garden clubs and Leadership Pike,” said Westerfield.

He likes EQIP. “I like the partnership feel of EQIP; it is good to have folks who recognize problems not to judge but to awaken ones inner conservationist,” said Bentoski. “Through the use of EQIP, my operation has benefited both physically and practically, by minimizing soil loss at every opportunity, many of them overlooked or misunderstood by myself. Aesthetically we have made things look a lot better with the help of the NRCS.”

Bentoski’s philosophy for future generations is simple. ”Building and maintaining healthy soil is the key to crop productivity at this farm; my hope is that by virtue of my success in that regard they will know my philosophy as they will still be able to farm this land.”

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