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Franklin County’s Dalestead Farm Committed to Protecting Soil and Water Quality

Matt Hull is rooted in Vermont. The fifth-generation farmer manages Dalestead Farm and Maple, LLC. Born and raised on the family farm, he says, “This is all I’ve ever done.” In 2015, he took over management of the farm from his parents Warren and Marie. His enthusiasm and true dedication to farming and conserving natural resources is evident as he discusses how the family has improved their conventional dairy.

The Hull’s worked closely with a number of conservation entities over the year’s and in 2018 coordinated with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to protect soil and water quality with the installation of a waste management system that included a suite of conservation practices such as a slurry store (waste storage facility), pumping plant and waste transfer, heavy use protection area, barnyard improvement, and more. The work was accomplished through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Their plan included transforming their previous solid waste manure operation to slurry store and a manure injection based system to save time and protect the natural resources on and around their farm.

The Hull’s manage 165 head of registered Holsteins, grow corn and hay, and milk 86 cows at Dalestead Farm and Maple, LLC, located in West Enosburg, Vermont. Matt also has an extensive sugaring business on the farm. The farm is located along the Branch River and situated in a floodplain. As a result, the Hull’s needed to obtain a permit to construct within the floodplain area. Their conservation plan involved closing out a waste storage facility where they were storing milk-house waste and locating the new slurry store further away from the river. The manure management plan helps reduce odor, retain nutrients, and reduces runoff potential.    

“Based on the location of the farm and the need to protect water quality, we knew that the waste storage facility and waste management plan would protect and improve soil and water quality on the farm,” explained NRCS Soil Conservationist Sarah Larose. She says that his improved system enables him to plan, test the soil, and more precisely place the nutrients where they are needed. “It wasn’t an easy decision for Matt to switch over his manure system from solid to liquid. We worked closely together discussing different potential solutions to the resource issued they faced. Throughout the entire process, Matt was very hands-on, asked lots of questions, and in the end, we were able to come up with a conservation plan to resolve the issues and concerns on the farmstead,” explained Larose.

They recently begin manure injection last summer which is a process of pumping manure slurry through an industrial hose to a specially designed tractor which directly injects manure below the soil surface as it moves across the field. “The most challenging element in this process is the geography of this farm. There are very few flat fields, and a lot of hills,” said Matt. He says the manure injection system has enabled him to spread the manure on more fields than he was previously able to with his old system. “I don’t ever want to spread manure again as long as I live,” he chuckles. He says this process saves time, money and improves the crop.

Matt says that he noticed greater yields in his corn crop after the injection process. “You are building up soil health. Year two you can start seeing things build because of your soil health and the injection means there is less nitrogen loss,” he said. Matt also noted, “If manure sits there all winter, you lose a lot of nutrient value.” He estimated that it cost 70 to 100 dollars per acre to apply the manure, and they average 2.4 gallons of fuel per acre to inject. “That’s nothing compared to what it cost me when I was tank loading it out to my fields and now it’s not as many passes on the field, which means less fuel.” He also noted that they average 1.2 more bales per acre on injected land verses what they netted with fertilizer and no manure. Matt said the time savings are also very valuable. “Using a dragline and the services of a custom operator we applied over 300,000 gallons in just over four hours.”

But, he’s quick to ensure other farmers understand that it does require an outset of financial resources to get started. “Manure doesn’t leave the farm free of charge,” he noted. “I spend a lot of money on fuel, maintenance, and labor.” But he also emphasizes that fact that his conservation plan lets him recycle valuable nutrients that could otherwise end up polluting nearby waterbodies. His EQIP conservation plan helped him meet the Vermont Required Ag Practices (RAPs) which were enacted a few years ago to improve the quality of the state’s waters by reducing cropland erosion and sediment and nutrient losses through conservation practices.

The Hull’s also demonstrated their conservation ethic by enrolling more than 15 acres of pasture in the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). The acres were planted with trees and shrubs to initiate the conversion of riparian areas to forested buffer zones, protecting and improving water quality in the nearly two miles of buffered stream along the Branch River.

To keep the herd from sensitive riparian areas, the Hulls installed 2.4 miles of high-tensile fence and eight stream crossings. They also installed a dug well, ran pipeline and added water tubs. The family was recognized in 2013 through the Lake Champlain Basin Program as “Farm of the Year” for their outstanding stewardship.