TICONDEROGA - One local dairy farm has been listed among the top in the state for efforts to minimize their impact on the environment.
Leerkes Farm, Inc., owned by Erik and Bernard Leerkes and Karl teRiele and families, was named a finalist for the 2010 New York State Agricultural Environmental Management Award, State Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker announced.
The AEM Award is presented annually to a farm family that practices sound agricultural stewardship by incorporating the AEM program into the operation of their farm business. The Ticonderoga dairy farm finished just a few points behind Van Slyke's Dairy Farm of Pike, the winner of this year's award.
Erik Leerkes was with his family at the Essex County Fair when he received word of the honor.
"We just try to do what we can to be environmentally friendly when possible," he said.
Erik credited David Reckhan from Essex County Soil and Water District with helping facilitate the farm's participation in the AEM program, which provides grants and technical assistance to help farms reduce pollution such as runoff from natural and artificial fertilizers.
"You know where you have pollution in your operation," said Erik, "and when there's ways to fix it and there's programs available to fix it, it makes sense to take advantage of that."
The Leerkes have taken advantage of grants through USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service to implement several projects to protect soil and water quality.
"They're there to help you, and they're there to make sure you're doing it right," said Erik.
With the help of NRCS specialist Rich Redmond, they installed stream buffer fencing along Ticonderoga Creek, a direct tributary of Lake Champlain that runs through the Leerkes' pastures, thereby limiting cows' access.
They also built a "calf greenhouse" to serve as alternative to outdoor calf hutches, which can act as a major contributor to harmful runoff.
"I'm certain that by moving it inside, it helps them by making the calves a little bit healthier, but it also helps reduce some of the [phosphorus and bacteria] that are a large concern in the Lake Champlain Basin," said Reckhan, who presented the Leerkes with Essex County's top AEM award a year ago and urged them to compete for the state award.
Other projects at Leerkes farm assisted by the AEM program have included a leach aid for silage and a wastewater treatment system for their milkhouse.
In addition, the Leerkes have participated in a regional program to recycle plastic wrapping used for hay bales. They also practice ridge-tilling in their fields and use a no-till corn planter.
"In this county, we're the only herd that grazes rotationally year-round," Erik said, citing another measure for erosion and runoff control.
Reckhan said it was the farm's many pollution-reducing measures, proximity to Lake Champlain and positive community presence that made the Leerkes such a strong candidate at the state level.
"I didn't expect much," said Erik. "We don't do it for the awards."
Though some of the projects have been an investment of time and money, Erik said, the grants available through the AEM program have helped and the benefits have been well worth the work.
"It's nice because there's always something you can do," Erik said. "You're always thinking, What can you do next? What can you do to keep it clean for the next generation?"