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Slate Ridge Dairy Earns Pennsylvania Leopold Conservation Award
Pennsylvania Ag Connection - 11/20/2020

Slate Ridge Dairy Farm is the 2020 recipient of the Pennsylvania Leopold Conservation Award.

Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the prestigious award recognizes farmers, ranchers and foresters who inspire others with their dedication to land, water and wildlife habitat resources in their care.

In Pennsylvania, the $10,000 award is presented annually by Sand County Foundation, American Farmland Trust, The Heinz Endowments, and Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. Ben and Sharon Peckman, who own and operate Slate Ridge Dairy Farm near St. Thomas receive $10,000 and a crystal award for being selected. The Franklin County dairy farmers were revealed as the recipients during the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau's virtual Annual Meeting.

"Recipients of this award are real life examples of conservation-minded agriculture," said Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation president and CEO. "These hard-working families are essential to our environment, food system and rural economy."

"As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation's Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of the Pennsylvania award finalists," said John Piotti, AFT president and CEO. "At AFT we believe that conservation in agriculture requires a focus on the land, the practices and the people and this award recognizes the integral role of all three."

"The Heinz Endowments' sustainability program promotes community health and vitality through sustainable food systems, and as part of this work we are pleased to cosponsor the Leopold Conservation Award. We believe the Leopold Conservation Award, and the outstanding leadership in agriculture that it recognizes, plays an important role in encouraging the continued growth of Pennsylvania's sustainable agriculture movement," said Andrew McElwaine, vice president of sustainability for The Heinz Endowments.

"The practices implemented at Slate Ridge Farm to preserve clean water, promote biodiversity, generate renewable energy and establish habitat for wildlife and pollinators are outstanding examples of the ways that Pennsylvania farmers work to protect our environment and natural resources," Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Rick Ebert said. "Congratulations to Ben and Sharon Peckman for this well-deserved honor and to our other Pennsylvania finalists, Glen Cauffman and the Brubaker family. Pennsylvania farmers know protecting our environment goes hand-in-hand with ensuring that our farms can continue to produce quality food, fuel and fiber for generations to come."

Earlier this year, Pennsylvania landowners were encouraged to apply (or be nominated) for the award. Applications were reviewed by an independent panel of agricultural and conservation leaders.

The Peckmans use cover crops to improve their soil's ability to infiltrate and hold water. Grants and cost-share programs from conservation stakeholders have allowed them to install pollinator plots, solar panels, manure storage facilities, a silage leachate collection system, and a methane digester on their mid-sized dairy. In addition to demonstrating how to plant corn into living cover crops, they have partnered with Penn State Extension to study how grazing cover crops impacts soil health.

Among the many outstanding Pennsylvania landowners nominated for the award were finalists: Brubaker Farms of Mount Joy in Lancaster County, and Glen Cauffman of Millerstown in Perry County. The 2019 Pennsylvania Leopold Conservation Award was presented to Mt-Glen Farms of Columbia Crossroads in Bradford County.

The Leopold Conservation Award in Pennsylvania is made possible thanks to the generous support of American Farmland Trust, The Heinz Endowments, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Sand County Foundation, U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts, and The Nature Conservancy.

In his influential 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Leopold called for an ethical relationship between people and the land they own and manage, which he called "an evolutionary possibility and an ecological necessity."

Sand County Foundation presents the Leopold Conservation Award to private landowners in 21 states for extraordinary achievement in voluntary conservation. For more information, visit www.leopoldconservationaward.org.

The Peckman family produces milk, but their dairy farm's foundation is its soil.

Slate Ridge Dairy Farm is located on shallow shale-based soils in a less-productive area of Franklin County, in south central Pennsylvania. Years ago, Ben Peckman discovered he could protect the environment and grow quality feed by working with the land's natural systems instead of against them.

Ben was an early adopter of no-till farming and cover crops. Both practices help reduce the amount of nutrient and sediment runoff reaching the Chesapeake Bay. They also improve his shallow, drought-prone soil's productivity and water-holding capacity.

However, being out front when it came to conservation practices wasn't always easy. Despite the potential benefits, new practices are often misunderstood by others, and run the risk of negatively affecting a farm's appearance.

Ben was the only farmer in Franklin County who wanted to use Penn State Extension's crop roller when he began experimenting with cover crops. He liked the results and never looked back. His corn planter is now equipped with a custom-made roller that allows him to "plant green" into a living cover crop with one pass of the tractor. Ben also saw that leaving cover crops unharvested could increase the soil's organic matter, reduce erosion, retain nutrients and provide year-round food for beneficial insects and microscopic organisms.

Penn State Extension took notice of the great infiltration that cover crops and continuous no-till were providing his fields. Its researchers conducted an experiment that applied three inches of simulated rainfall to his land that showed zero runoff.

The Peckmans partnered again with Penn State Extension to study soil health benefits of grazing cover crops. Their dairy herd is not grazed, but that didn't stop them from fencing in some cropland, planting cover crops and buying some beef steers to conduct the research. Again, this was more about the soil than the cattle.

Another innovation the Peckmans invested in is a methane digester. The farm uses about a third of the energy it produces from their herd's manure, with the rest sold to their electric utility's power grid. It's an example of how the farm achieves sustainability and profitability with assistance from grants and cost-share programs. Solar panels, pollinator plots, manure storage facilities and a silage leachate collection system have also been installed at Slate Ridge Dairy Farm.

Not only was Ben a believer in regenerative agriculture before it was trendy, but he's put his beliefs into action. Crop scouting and research plots can verify that his fields are functioning as a living organism.

The Peckmans invite the conservation community to use their farm for events and demonstrations so other farmers can learn from their efforts to improve the landscape. Aside from their passionate drive to innovate, it's their willingness to mentor others that sets them apart from others.


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