LITTLE - A delegation of several judges, including West Virginia Department of Agriculture Commissioner Gus R. Douglass, toured Long Creek Farm in a statewide competition to be named the 2012 West Virginia Conservation Farm of the Year.
The local farm was one of only three in the state to be toured and evaluated last week by the team of experts in the fields of farming and conservation. The other two farms in the running for the honor are Stone Meadow Cattle Farm in the Lewisburg area and B&G Orchards in the Martinsburg area. The winning farm will be announced at the 2012 West Virginia Conservation Awards & Recognition Conference on Oct. 30 at the Charleston Town Center Marriott.
The farm named as the state winner receives 250 hours use of a brand new John Deere Tractor courtesy of Middletown Tractor Sales in Fairmont. It also receives a check for $1,000 and a metal sign to hang on their farm stating it is the 2012 West Virginia Conservation Farm of the Year. Further, it receives pictures and a video of the farm.
Long Creek Farm, owned by Linda Jensen and Steve Zechman, is the first farm in the Upper Ohio Conservation District, which encompasses Wetzel, Tyler and Pleasants counties, to be named an Area II Winner and put into the running for the state honor.
"We've had two other area winners, but we've never had anyone advance to the state judging," said Cindy White, administrative officer in Middlebourne for the West Virginia Conservation Agency. "This is really something."
Zechman and Jensen purchased the farm in 2005 and began working with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in 2006.
"They've done so much since 2005," said White. "What you're seeing is not something inherited by these people, but something they built," NRCS District Conservationist Dave Bauerbach told the judges. The couple does not have a farming background.
When they purchased the farm, it was fairly rundown with ground that was depleted of nutrients thanks to continuous corn production.
Now the farm has 9,200 feet of stream exclusion riparian corridor, three spring developments, five water troughs, one pond, 28 acres of reseeding, 40 acres of prescribed grazing, 40 acres of nutrient management, a season high tunnel for plants, a large feed pad/animal waste structure, a 1,450 foot access road, and 1,200 square feet of stone heavy use protection. Their current conservation practices include irrigation water well, microirrigation system, spring development system, and grade stabilization along Middle Island Creek. They keep 28 head of beef cattle on the farm with a final goal of sustaining 35 to 40 head.
"He's wanting to go natural," said Bauerbach. That doesn't necessarily mean organic, but natural. He's aiming for self sustainability. Agriculturally, he has pretty much reached that."
For instance, the farm uses locust posts to fence in the riparian buffer zone. That measure required some extra work, but Zechman said, "In the end, I think it?s worth it."
For temporary fencing to utilize rotational grazing, Zechman uses high tensile fence.
Zechman made sure Mason Pyles, "one of five fine young country boys that helped us with our farm," was on the wagon with the judges as the tour progressed. Douglass complimented Zechman for incorporating young farmers in his practice.
"This is fantastic," he said. "That's the future of us, so that they are learning by doing."
Conservation specialist Harry Huff has performed soil tests on the farm.
"I don't know why someone wouldn't pick up the phone and call Harry and ask for help," said Zechman.
Another great adviser for Zechman was Steve Hibinger, grassland management specialist for 11 counties in southern Ohio. He helped him determine what natural practices, such as prescribed grazing, could be used to enhance his fields. Zechman has been amazed at the results and the judges seemed pleased as well. He even said the grazing eliminated the pesky Canadian Thistle in one area.
When Douglass asked Zechman about his living arrangements, he replied, "Well, I live in a barn Gus."
Zechman and Jensen have made a comfortable home in approximately one-third of a large metal barn that houses the farm's shop, not livestock. The building was constructed in 2008 and they have found the living quarters to be quite suitable. It is heated with just the wood that falls on the farm.