Farmers live in the same community as you and I and care about the land, the environment and the quality of water because it’s in their backyard, too.

As we are in the middle of the spring season on the farm, I’m sure you’re seeing a lot going on in your neighborhood. While it may seem that farmers are focused solely on one thing: getting their crops planted. There is a lot more to the process than simply putting some seeds in the ground. The vice-chairman of the New York Animal Agriculture Coalition, a dairy farmer in Locke, NY, provided some insight earlier this year as to what farmers are thinking when it comes to water quality, the environment and the land you and I live on.

“For residents like myself, the Finger Lakes are one of our greatest assets in the area, known for providing quality drinking water, scenic vistas and fun-filled summer days. For farmers like me, it is also one of our greatest resources, offering some of the most productive, well-drained soils around them, allowing us to grow great crops. As a farmer, the health and well-being of the lakes and the land around them are one of my greatest concerns. 

I have taken my concern for the environment to task and actually changed the way I farm. Working with experts from Cornell, Cayuga County, and Agricultural Consulting Services, I have incorporated new management practices and state-of-the-art equipment to better manage the manure produced by my cows and used to fertilize my crops. Some of the changes include using more cover crops in the winter to prevent erosion, adding manure storage enabling me to avoid spreading in questionable weather, and upgrading my manure application equipment so I can incorporate nutrients directly into the soil to avoid potential runoff. 

This cover crop of rye helps protect the soil by keeping it in place and decreasing erosion.

I have not been perfect. Regrettably, over the years I have had incidences that have negatively impacted the environment and my neighbors. I have learned from these experiences and endeavor to avoid negative impacts to the environment and community as I manage this great natural resource. No farmer wants soil or nutrients leaving our farms. Nutrient rich topsoil is our lifeblood and we want to keep all of it in the field! 

I am also not the exception. Most, if not all farmers in the area, share the same concern for the lake, and have also found new and better ways to farm in the watershed. My ask to the community is to seek first to understand all that is contributing to Owasco Lake. There are numerous potential contributors, yet farmers are often pitted as the culprit. I truly believe we are doing a lot to serve as a solution. So please, seek us out, request a tour of our farms and see firsthand the improvements farmers have made in order to understand the rationale behind our modern practices. While there is always more to learn and more work to be done, please know that farmers are continually and proactively seeking ways to be better stewards of the land and guardians of the watershed.”

Dale Mattoon, Dairy Farmer in Locke, NY



Additional resources for water quality and nutrient management information:

Partners for Healthy Watersheds

New York State Soil & Water Conservation Committee

Cornell University Nutrient Management Spear Program