August 26, 2010
Contacts: Anita Deming, Cornell Cooperative Extension Essex County, 518-962-4810; David Reckahn, Essex County Soil and Water Conservation District, 518-962-8225; Bernard and Erik Leerkes: 518-585-9888

NNY Dairy Recognized as Eco-Friendly Farm in State Award Finals

Ticonderoga, NY – Environmentally-friendly farming takes planning, hard work and capital investment. Last week, the Leerkes Dairy Farm of Ticonderoga, NY, was recognized as a finalist for the New York State Agricultural Environmental Management Award (NYS AEM) at the Empire Farm Days Ag Leader Luncheon in Seneca Falls, NY.

The Bernard and Erik Leerkes and Karl teRiele families own and operate the 54-year-old commercial dairy enterprise nominated for the state eco-friendly farming award by the Cornell Cooperative Extension Association of Essex County and the Essex County Soil and Water Conservation District. The farm is in the Lake Champlain and Five Mile Creek watersheds.

Photo: Bernard Leerkes (left) and Christine Leerkes receive the 2009 Essex County Soil and Water Conservation District Agricultural Stewardship Award from District Manager Dave Reckahn. Leerkes Dairy Farm was one of three finalists for the 2010 New York State Agricultural Environmental Management Award.

Cornell Cooperative Extension Association of Essex County Executive Director Anita Deming says these farmers were well ahead of any government requirement to have land, water and air quality conservation practices in place.

“Leerkes Dairy Farm is the first farm in Essex County to fully implement a CAFO (confined animal feeding operation) plan that meets state and federal requirements. They began planning and implementation six years ago, long before it was mandated,” Deming says.

Essex County Soil and Water Conservation District Manager David Reckahn says, “Leerkes Dairy Farm is one of the few larger farms that has enacted a grazing management plan that allows for permanent pasture areas to hold soil and reduce runoff into the lake. This makes the farm more competitive because it is not running tractors and equipment over that land and the cows are eating on their own in the pasture, returning a green economic value as well as a positive environmental impact.”

Leerkes Dairy Farm has 200 milking cows and another 200 head of young stock.

The farm’s CAFO plan includes comprehensive nutrient management, pathogen reduction, integrated pest management (IPM) and safety plans. Some key points of those plans include:
• Purchased fertilizer is applied to the farm’s 1,100 crop acres only after on-farm nutrients are used, resulting in both environmental and economic benefits
• Manure is handled in two engineered storage pits
• Composting practices reduce pathogen spread
• Implementing IPM and working with a professional field crops advisor minimizes pesticide use
• Soil erosion is controlled by reduced tillage practices, crop rotation and improved laneways for cow movement
• Intensive rotational grazing on grasses with all the dairy cows maximizes use of on-farm nutrient sources and decreases use of fossil fuels
• Streams, spring and woodlot are protected from grazing animals by use of a 25-foot fenced buffer and filter area.

A silage leachate collection system is currently in development.

Erik Leerkes says, “Conservation is part of our family history. My dad (Bernard) was one of the first farmers to use manure storage in the 1980s and we have been adding conservation measures on the farm ever since. We see the impact of what we are doing, for example, in drier pastures and cleaner animals.”

Erik says a bonus of controlling animal access to stream areas makes it easier to get the cows in from pasture as “they only have one place to go when we call them.”

State and federal cost-sharing assistance for the farm’s eco-friendly improvements has come with assistance from the Essex County Soil and Water Conservation District and Cornell Cooperative Extension offices.

New York State Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker recognized Leerkes Dairy Farm and Aurora Ridge Dairy LLC of Cayuga County as AEM finalists when he presented the award for 2010 to Van Slyke’s Dairy Farm, LLC of Pike, NY at the Empire Farm Days luncheon. The NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets, American Agriculturist magazine, and the Empire State Potato Growers Association sponsored the 17th annual award.

Leerkes Dairy Farm received the 2009 Essex County Soil and Water Conservation District Agricultural Stewardship Award and the 2010 Lake Champlain Basin Conservation Agricultural Environmental Management award.

The Leerkes and teRiele families have also been recognized for their service to the community through such organizations as Farm Bureau; 4-H; Ag Literacy Week; the Essex County Fair; Adirondack Harvest; planning, zoning, economic development and farmland protection boards; Miner Institute; and the farmer-driven Northern New York Agricultural Development Program.

The Essex County Soil and Water Conservation District, 518-962-8225, helps farmers with technical assistance and cost-sharing through such funders as the Lake Champlain Basin Program, state non-point source funds, and the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Essex County, 518-962-4810, offers diverse production, business management and marketing development programs for dairy farmers, fruit growers, horticultural and other agricultural producers, 4-H and youth, and health and nutrition interests.

The farmer-driven Northern New York Agricultural Development Program, www.nnyagdev.org, is a region-specific research, education and outreach program co-chaired by Joe Giroux at 518-565-4730 and Jon Greenwood at 315-386-3231. #