Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonald got a first-hand look at conservation efforts in the Northeast on Wednesday during a tour of two farms in Wyoming County.
The secretary visited the Henningstead Holstein Farm in Mehoopany and the Faux Family Farm in Monroe Township. Information was provided at both facilities on what programs each has incorporated to make their operations more environmentally friendly.
Although McDonald was primarily interested in water conservation, he said that all environmental programs are beneficial to each other.
“Part of what we’re doing is to meet our Chesapeake Bay obligation,” McDonald explained. “The other part is what we can do for the individual communities.”
Because they work extensively with animals and the soil, farmers often have a great impact on the environment, the secretary explained. By showing the benefits to farms which have incorporate good environmental practices, it is hoped it will encourage other farmers to institute similar practices.
One example is a manure storage shed, which was recently constructed on the Henningstead Holstein Farm.
Owned and operated by Stephen and Tina Henning, the farm is an organic dairy operation with more than 100 cows.
“It cost $130,000, with 80 percent of it funded by the DEP,” explained Peter Tarby, a Chesapeake Bay Field representative for the DEP.
The manure is stored in the shed until it is ready to be used as fertilizer.
“It smells much better than a slurry tank, and is also much safer, particularly with young children around,” explained Tina Henning.
She said that the farm’s environmental practice goes back to the 1960s, when Stephen’s father, the late Carleton Henning, installed drain tile and diversion ditches to control water runoff.
The Henningstead Holstein Farm also has a ‘no till’ policy, which allows for better soil control.
“We plant tillage radishes,” explained Stephen Henning. “They loosen the soil up so the water can soak in better.”
McDonald said soil improvement efforts also by extension help to improve water quality.
At the Faux Family Farm, Chris Faux explained how he installed stream bank fence to prevent his cows from wandering into nearby Marsh Creek.
Faux explained that when he was growing up on the farm, his grandfather Albert Wyda allowed the cows to graze in the swampy area surrounding the creek. But this caused an adverse environmental impact.
“A lot of the underbrush was torn up. A lot of the vegetation disappeared,” he said.
Through a grant from DEP, Faux installed 1,680 feet of fence to keep his 18 cows from getting too close the creek. As a result, the vegetation surrounding the creek has made a comeback.
According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, farming has a large environmental impact on a given area.
McDonald said DEP and other agencies are working with farmers, encouraging them to incorporate programs to lessen their environmental impact.
Pennsylvania and other states have been working to reduce the amount of discharge going into the Chesapeake Bay, he said. Although the commonwealth has made improvements, it still discharges about 95 million pounds of nitrates into the bay each year, he said. About 70 percent of it comes from Pennsylvania farms.
“We want the farmers to see the benefits of taking a proactive stance concerning the environment,” McDonald said.