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Family Farm Builds on Success with NRCS Technical and Financial Assistance

Written by: John Thurgood, Central Zone District Conservationist, Vermont

The Pouliot family has been farming in Westford, Vermont since 1973.  Soon after Don and his wife purchased the farm, the Pouliots added 39 dairy cows that they milked in a modest tie-stall barn. The farm is currently managed by Don and his sons Tony and Arlo, and has successfully grown to a herd of 425 cows and 325 youngstock.  The cows are housed in a freestall barn and are milked in a modern double 10 herringbone parlor. In addition to their barn, the Pouliots also manage 1,200 acres of cropland consisting of hayland, corn for silage, and pasture.

Over the past eight years, the Pouliots have worked diligently with Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Soil Conservationist, Danny Peet, on the development of their conservation plan.  Why the intense focus on conservation?  Don states, “I knew compliance was coming and that there may not be help [financial assistance] in the future.”  Through a series of Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) contracts, the Pouliot family has dramatically enhanced the environmental sensitivity of their farm.

The most significant change in the operation has been on the headquarters area of the farm.  The existing earthen manure storage facility, which was too small and constructed on bedrock, was decommissioned and in turn a properly sized and designed facility was constructed. Manure is now transferred from the main barn, and manure and rainfall from animal feeding/loafing areas is transferred to a hopper that feeds the manure facility.  Additionally, roof runoff  is diverted away from animal use areas by way of a gutter system that has the ability to  be moved  in order to avoid damage by ice that is shed from the roof during winter.

Storing his manure and spreading only three seasons of the year has allowed Don to better manage his manure applications.  Don said, “The first three years I saw a gain in grass production due to not losing nutrients and putting [manure] on at the right time.  It costs the same amount to do it.”

The list of other conservation practices applied on the farm through EQIP include cover crops, conservation crop rotation,  streambank protection, riparian forest buffers, and more.  The Pouliot farm has taken the initiative to adopt conservation practices on its own.  Don believes in injecting manure to reduce nutrient losses by way of runoff and volatilization.  The farm purchased a truck from a nearby city that had used it for sewage sludge application; while it has been a problem to maintain, they remain satisfied with the concept and results.  The Pouliots are planning to acquire more reliable pieces of equipment in the near future.

Don is also very concerned about minimizing soil compaction.  On hayfields, he was seeing a significant reduction of plant vigor in the tire tracks of his manure spreader truck.  To rectify this, Don replaced the standard off road truck tires with floatation tires and has been pleased with the results.

As for the NRCS contribution to the farm’s conservation, Don said, “without them [Soil Conservationist Danny Peet and Civil Engineer Tate Jeffrey] and [NRCS] programs I could not have done it.  They have made the whole thing work.”  Don’s praise does not end there, as he said Farm Service Agency staff “are great, they are right on top of things… they keep me up with my paperwork.”  Lawrence Parker, County Executive Director, held a special informational night meeting on the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program for which Don enrolled.  Don said the ACRE program “has worked well for me.” The Pouliot farm’s success in resource conservation has been a tribute to the concept of private landowners taking ownership of conserving natural resources.

Pouliot Family: Arlo, Tony and Don

Pouliot Farmers, Arlo, Tony and Don