The date on the calendar indicates we are in autumn but the temperatures outside say something very different. Summer doesn’t want to leave. The new season brings changes in our diet and routines as well as changes in the wildlife’s diet and routines which can affect our agriculture. We recently spoke to a local farmer whose pumpkin crop was greatly damaged by the deer last week. In this month’s Field Notes, we look at “How to Assess & Manage Wildlife Intrusion Risk on Your Farm.”

There has been a concern this past month regarding what was being released from the planes flying over our fields. Well, if you haven’t already heard, it was seed to cover the crops. Check out the article in Other News for more details.  

Farming brings many challenges to our hard-working producers. The weather, wildlife, lack of resources, etc. Michael Edwards from Wood Duck Landing Farm is finding this out first hand as a new farmer. Hear his story of challenge and where he is finding guidance.

The buzz word Regenerative is the new Sustainable. Why? What’s the difference?  Get the answers in our Agricultural News section.

We would like to know what you want to learn or discover through our monthly Field Notes.  Please send us a note and let us know what you want to hear about. See you next month! 

– The Chesapeake Harvest Team

Farm to Table: Challenges of a New Farmer

In a roundabout way, when Michael and Kelly Edwards decided to go back to their roots, they ended up with a farm. Michael, was missing the Eastern Shore he had grown up in and Kelly, born and raised on a farm in Missouri, was looking for a place where she could have a kennel for breeding her show quality Irish Terriers. What they ended up with was Wood Duck Landing, 103 acres of an established farm in Somerset County.

The farm had been growing traditional soybean and corn, and Michael learned all of the conventional ways of farming. The first thing he realized was that if he expected to make a living on the traditional costs of corn and soybean, he would need 1,000 acres or more. Then there were the startup costs of equipment… That’s when the Edwards decided to try something different. They started farming specialty crops without using herbicides and pesticides.

After a few failures, including the wipeout of their first year’s crop, they started using plasticulture equipment, which works for weed control, although leaving the plastic. The Edwards continue to look for alternative solutions that will help them become both 100% organic and ecologically friendly.

Another challenge they experienced was funding and financing. Since Kelly is a disabled military veteran, they were told there were multiple programs on a state and federal level that could help. They found this not to be the case. “When you try to dig into it and actually look for an application, a lot of them say they’re already done or there is no application. So, on face value, there’s all these beautiful ideas and thoughts, and they say there’s all this help, but in reality, we’ve gotten zero.”

Meanwhile, the Edwards continued to experiment and were successful in growing blueberries, grapes, watermelons, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes. They also started growing shitake mushrooms utilizing the wooded hardwood areas on their farm. That’s when they realized their biggest challenge: how to sell the produce. Farmer’s markets were too small and the restaurants didn’t buy large enough quantities. They heard about Chesapeake Harvest and contacted them, because, “They seem to have a similar philosophy that we have, as far as the environment and sustainable farming,” says Michael. It’s turned out to be a great partnership.

As for the future, Michael sees the importance of educating the public as to what they’re eating. He envisions creating a place where people could see how different farming practices create different results. “One of the things we’re trying to do is prove that we can grow quality, safe, and sustainable products and hopefully, develop a reputation.”

To savor some of this farm’s produce, contact Chesapeake Harvest.

Michael Edwards can be reached at michaeledwards0707@gmail.com.

Pictured are Natalie Slater and Michael Edwards.

Producer News: How to Assess and Manage Wildlife Intrusion Risk on Your Farm

To protect the public from foodborne illness, vegetable growers must identify and manage against possible environmental sources of contamination — such as intrusion and defecation by wild animals — to ensure public health concerns remain minimal. Read More.

If you are interested in getting support to help your produce farm become food safety compliant, please contact: Elizabeth Beggins at elizabeth@chesapeakeharvest.com or Lindsay Gilmour at lindsaygilmour@comcast.net to discuss the type of food safety support your farm needs to become audit ready.  For more info:  https://chesapeakeharvest.com/food-safety/

Working with Grain, Pulse, Nut or Oil Seed Crops?

It’s been 10 years since the Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative formed and launched Shagbark Seed & Mill, an organic mill our region. Now we are poised to build our region’s network and launch a national network around staple seed crops–grain, oil seed, nuts, pulses–and we are looking for participants to complete our survey. Read on if you are in any way working with grain, pulse, nut, or oil seed crops.

Why? We all came to this work because we thought we could do it better than the industrial food system. As we’ve watched start up enterprises (like regional/local organic mills, breweries, grain farms, tortillerias, plant based food products, seed houses, and farm research teams) grow from very few to may dozens, our excitement grew about connecting with one another to build collective impact that will take our work beyond niche to the whole of our communities. The ultimate impact is something better than the industrial food system. 

 The Staple Foods Network will map relationships within and between each region, and create a web platform where you can define what is most needed, whether it be how to run the mill, grow the crop, get the seed, malt the grain, or find the market.   Imagine region to region trade routes! Growing research plots in different soils and zones. Building strategies for growing these crops in a changing climate. Understanding local and regional markets.

If you are interested in being part of this map and web platform, please send a message to michellea@ruralaction.org to receive a survey. By telling us who you know and have worked with, we will be able to reach more and more small and mid-size farms and processors, plus researchers, writers, and others who can make our work hit the next plateau.  

 

Aerial Seeding: Local Aviation and Agriculture Experts Allay Fears of Talbot Citizens

By CONNIE CONNOLLY cconnolly@chespub.com Sep 15, 2019

EASTON — If you see a low-flying small plane dipping below the treeline, swooping low over fields and looping back up sharply to do it again — don’t panic. It’s simply aerial agriculture.

Small planes applying cover crops by air during late summer are nothing new to longtime residents of Talbot County, but for the uninitiated, the sight can be unnerving.

Calls from panicked and even irate residents have been pouring into Easton Airport and local crop dusting operations. Unfamiliar with this rural phenomenon, some fear they’re seeing an imminent disaster or reckless behavior by daredevil pilots.

“They don’t know it’s an agricultural operation,” said Easton Airport Manager Micah Risher. “They just think it’s some guy with his private aircraft out goofing off behind their woods, and that he could crash and kill people.”

But planting winter cover crops is one strategy Maryland farmers use to do their part in improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay. The state encourages, and even incentivizes, aerial application of seed.

Aerial agriculture “is not uncommon here at all,” said Greg Gannon, who, with brothers Glen and Gary, farms Harwood Hill Farm on Longwoods and Airport roads, next to Easton Airport.

“Some of our cover crop is applied aerially,” Gannon said. The Gannon brothers’ farming operation, Cecil H. Gannon & Sons Inc., usually plants forage, or daikon, radish. “It’s one of the Maryland approved cover crops, and should be applied from the air. We try to do every acre we possibly can because it’s good husbandry of the land. It’s a great practice.”

“Throughout the years, I’ve heard that people call the airport because they get alarmed (when) they see a plane over the field,” said Gannon, who enjoys the sight. “It’s a lot of fun to watch them do it.”

It surprises Gannon when concerned citizens call the airport or the farm.

“What’s surprising is, sometimes you can’t see the seed or the spray, especially the radish seeds, even though there are about 300,000 or 400,000 thousand seeds per acre coming out,” Gannon said. “So you may not see it, but at the same time, most people would put it together that this guy’s circling and dipping right back – that’s there’s a purpose to what he’s doing.”

“We have been taking a lot of calls here at the airport,” Risher said. “Spraying started a few weeks ago, so we’ve probably gotten upwards of about 20 phone calls.”

“It’s not like your normal Cessna that’s making a slow turn. It’s this quick pull-up at a steep angle, then looping back around, so it catches the eye,” Risher said. “It’s unusual, so that’s when people start having concerns.”

“We get very few noise complaints,” Risher said. “But crop dusters are the majority of our noise complaints. We don’t get complaints on hardly any other aircraft.”

About five citizens a week call to question what’s going on. “For us, that’s a lot,” Risher said. “We’re trying to educate people that this is one of the joys of living on the Shore.”

When people see aircraft flying low, they get concerned – (some) don’t know it’s an agricultural operation,” Risher said. “But it is FAA-approved, and it’s very vital for the health of the Chesapeake Bay. They’re planting the cover crops to keep excess nitrogen from running down into our waterways. So it’s a big deal.”

Besides recycling nitrogen, cover crops also “reduce erosion, add valuable organic matter to the soil and help protect fields from too much or too little rain,” according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

“When the farmer comes and harvests their crop, the cover crop is already established, so nutrients … don’t run off into the water supply and into the Bay,” said Jeff Chorman, co-owner and chief pilot, speaking from his plane as he seeded a field on Sept. 10.

Seeding from the air has its advantages. “It gets established earlier and gets started pulling in any excess nitrogen out of the soil,” Chorman said.

“It always looks dangerous to the average person because it is aerobatic flight. The average person thinks it’s far too close or it looks dangerous, but it’s kind of tough to leave it up to their opinion,” Risher said. “However, the proper course of action is to call the FAA’s Flight Standards Division in Baltimore, and they would be the ones who listen and determine if any action would need to be taken.”

“It is legal to fly as low as 500 feet over a rural area, even for a regular sightseeing aircraft,” Risher said. “From the ground it looks extremely low, but it is legal because we are not an overly populated area, except for the incorporated city of Easton (where) aircraft must fly over 1,000 feet. Even if you live in housing development on the outskirts of town, 500 feet is legal.”

“There are times when we get calls from people who think a plane has crashed” when it banks steeply and drops below the treeline, Risher said. “We ask, ‘Was it a yellow plane?’”

That’s because most local crop dusters are yellow or white, like those flown by Allen Chorman and Sons pilots, an aerial agriculture business based in Milton.

“We get calls from concerned citizens in Talbot County,” Chorman said, adding that the main reason for the calls is because residents “only see the airplane once a year.” His operation doesn’t do crop spraying; “we just do cover crops in areas west of Easton (and towards) St. Michaels.

“We get all those calls all the time,” Chorman said. “Most people — once you tell them what you’re doing — they’re fine,” Chorman said. “It’s the fear of the unknown.”

“We’re very, very, very busy,” Chorman said. “We do a tremendous amount of aerial cover crop (in) Maryland and Delaware, but we do a lot right there around Easton.”

Spreading radish seeds over corn waiting to be picked is “sort of the same as sprinkling grass seed on a bare spot on the lawn, and if you don’t work it in at all, it will — most of the time — with dew and some rain, sprout literally on top of the ground and go ahead and grow,” Gannon said.

Among other approved Maryland cover crops are wheat, rye, barley, oats, ryegrass and clover.

“Most of what we do is wheat at two-and-a-half bushels to the acre, or barley, and we also do a lot of radishes around Easton,” Chorman said. He and the five other pilots in his company usually take off out of Ridgely and Cambridge to work in Talbot County.

“These crop dusters do a great job,” Risher said. “They do it every day.”

“These guys have a lot of hours. If they have a problem, they’re going to put (the plane) down in the field; they’re going to miss homes to the extent that they can,” Risher said. “You can never mitigate all the risk out of every operation, but … they have a very good safety record.”

“(One aerial ag pilot) did have to make an emergency landing near Ocean City recently, and he put it down properly in the field — the plane caught on fire — but that just goes to show these guys are very well-trained, highly skilled pilots,” Risher said.

If you have any questions or concerns about the operation of an aircraft, you can call the FAA Flight Standards Division in Baltimore at 443-270-7400.

For more information about the Maryland Cover Crop Program, visit mda.maryland.gov/resource_conservation/counties/2019CCBrochure_F.pdf.

A local pilot flies low over a corn field near Easton Airport to seed it with a cover crop. The airport has fielded many calls from concerned citizens worried about the flight patterns of the crop dusters.

PHOTO BY LYNN FARR

Upcoming Events

Garlic Growing Workshop
September 28th & 29th
October 5th, 6th, 12th, 13th, 19th, 20th, 26th & 27th
Nature’s Garlic Farm
Easton, MD

Strategic Plan for Maryland Agriculture for Farmers and Stakeholders
September 30th, 2019  |  7-9 pm
Chesapeake College Eastern Shore Higher Education Center
1000 College Circle, Wye Mills, MD

Strategic Plan for Maryland Agriculture for Farmers and Stakeholders
October 1st, 2019  |  7-9 pm
Maryland State Fairgrounds Administration Building
2200 York Road, Lutherville-Timonium, MD

“What’s That Smell?” Understanding Modern Agriculture and What Officials Need to Know
October 10th, 2019  |  9am – 3pm
Lower Shore American Job Center
31901 Tri-County Way, Salisbury, MD