RI Farmer finds conservation land & sustainability essential

Jim Booth, Farm Manager with his dog “Fionnuala” (mythical Queen of Ireland) at Aquidneck Farms in Portsmouth, RI.

Jim Booth, Farm Manager with “Fionnuala” at Aquidneck Farms.

How can a young or beginning farmer afford land, equipment, seed and soil amendments or livestock and feed? Jim Booth, Farm Manager of Aquidneck Farms, runs a sustainable, economically viable livestock farm. “Livestock farming takes a lot of land,” Booth said. RI has the most expensive land in the whole country according to the last USDA Agricultural census. “This 12-year-old business couldn’t exist without conserved land,” Booth continued. He spoke highly of his experience working with Aquidneck Land Trust. (www.ailt.org)

Aquidneck Farms operation supports three full-time farmers in Portsmouth, RI. Booth admits the economic downturn has affected the farm. “We work harder each year to maintain the same income,” said Booth. “We earned the same at five farmers markets this year that we used to make at just one market a few summers ago.”

Aquidneck Farms raise 180 grass-fed beef cattle and 1,200 pastured poultry on nearly 350 acres of conserved land including 120 acres of “improved” pasture. Most cattle are born on the farm, raised on their mother’s milk and weaned on lush legume pastures. 43 steers were processed throughout 2012, up from 38 steers in 2011. Twenty percent of the heifers were retained for breeding.

Rotational grazing protects soil fertility, improves pasture quality and reduces disease pressures. Each winter, high quality, Aquidneck Farms-raised hay and grass silage keep animals growing 1 to 1 1/2 pounds per day. Cattle will not be fed grains, ever. This feeding program works so well, cattle reach market weight in just 585 days.

The farm started with 12 Herefords with a 30-month cycle. Booth admits that switching to Black Angus Beef was an “unexpectedly brilliant idea”. These animals reach market weight on grass in just 22 months. The farm also benefits from the American Angus Association’s national marketing campaigns.

Soils & Fertility

Annual soil tests of each pasture include macro and micronutrient levels. Booth recommends working with John Parker of South Coast Agricultural Services (formerly Crop Services/Field Works) (give phone and email) who collects soil and hay samples for testing at UVM Extension Labs (www.uvm.edu/pss/ag_testing/?Page=soils.html). Parker applies minerals or amendments only as soil and hay tests indicate.

Hay & Compost

Aquidneck Farms make high quality hay and grass silage. The farm uses about 1600 4×4 round bales per year fed at a rate of one dry to two wet bales. Fresh hay is baled within eight hours of cutting for maximum protein retention. The bales are bagged within a week. Booth admits the farm is fortunate to have amazing soils to work with. Aquidneck Island is a glacial moraine with well-drained, high mineral soils. Farms that manage organic matter have impressive fertility and yields with high-quality crops.

The farm’s compost operation began in 2009 (?) to fund additional staff and as a pasture fertilizer source. Horse manure and bedding from nearby stables is blended with the farm’s manure from winter holding areas. Surplus compost is sold to local farms and home gardeners.

 

Sustainable not Certified Organic

While the farm treats land and livestock organically, the farm owner and staff have chosen not to seek organic certification. Thriving animals are selected for breeding continually improving the farm’s local adaptation.

Hormones or prophylactic antibiotics are never added to feed. Pesticides are avoided and pastures are fertilized with cattle and chicken manure and farm-made compost.

Because Aquidneck Farm never used feed grains, 2012’s disastrous drought had no economic impact.

Deliberate soil improvement has improved hay and forage quality each year. Rotational grazing and adequate space for livestock has reduced disease and stress. There has been less than one percept animal loss annually. (Coyote and one stillbirth)

Full Circle Recycling of Johnston, RI will recycle plastic bale covers and round barn poly covers. (401- 464-5996 www.fullcirclerecyclingri.com) These plastics will be turned into landscape pavers.

 

Poultry & Eggs

Aquidneck Farms raise pastured poultry and sell 1200 broilers and countless eggs at local farmers markets and from their farm store. Like Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm (www.polyfacefarms.com), portable chicken tractors are used during the growing season. Chicks spend their first few weeks in a warm brooding room within the cattle barn. The “tractors” rotate through pastures behind cows to quickly break up cow paddies, add fertilizers, reduce flies and break parasite and disease cycles. Daily movement ensures fresh forage and poultry favorites: bugs and insect eggs. Chickens have fresh air and water, natural light, space for exercise and protection from predators – mainly hawks and coyotes. Chickens receive some grain. Their feed is not medicated.

History & Background

The farm was a country estate renowned for prizewinning Jersey dairy cattle and Hereford beef. The farm declined upon the owner’s death and eventually became a turf farm. In 2003, Farmscapes, LLC. purchased the farm and has operated as Aquidneck Farms ever since. Their grass-fed beef has been sold at local Farmers Markets since 2009.

Aquidneck Farms’ Farm Management Plan was approved by the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS). All farm practices have been reviewed and endorsed by the RI Department of Environmental Management (RI DEM), Division of Agriculture and the Aquidneck Land Trust.

Sales

Aquidneck Farms feef and chickens are cryo-wrapped and sold frozen. Meats are available at 20 restaurants across southern New England. Chefs order online for delivery twice a week through Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s Market Mobile. (See www.farmfresh.org/hub)

Consumers can purchase Aquidneck Farms beef, chickens and eggs at five RI Farmers Markets (see www.farmfresh.org/food/farm.php?farm=2056#markets). Meats can be ordered online, at the farm store or purchased from specialty markets and suppliers.

Online orders can be picked up at farmers markets or the farm store. Orders over $350 can be delivered on weekdays within 45 miles for a small fee. Meats can be ordered online at http://aquidneckfarms.com/index.php/purchase/order.

Contact

Learn more at www.aquidneckfarms.com, email Jim Booth at jim@farmscapesllc.com or Michael Victor, Livestock Manager at michael@farmscapesllc.com. Call the farm store at 401-849-0337 or visit on Friday afternoons from 1 to 5 p.m. at 333 Wapping Road in Portsmouth, RI.

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About Sanne Kure-Jensen

Sanne Kure-Jensen is a frequent contributor to Country Folks, Country Folks Grower and Wine & Grape Grower bringing regional and national attention to agriculture in RI and across southern New England. She has also written for newsletters of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA), Holistic Management International (HMI), RI Beekeepers Association and RI Tree Council. Read Sanne’s work at her Sustainable Living page at examiner.com. Sanne has written successful grant applications for alternative energy projects, staff and board training, products and services. Clients include agricultural businesses, farm stand/markets and non-profit organizations. Recent successful grant projects include a $90,000 USDA Rural Development‘s Rural Energy For America Program (REAP), $10,000 Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Farmer and $20,000 Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG). Sanne is the part-time Administrator for NOFA/RI, a Rhode Island Certified Horticulturist and beekeeper. She is a NOFA Accredited Organic Land Care Professional and has lectured across southern New England on Beekeeping, Native Pollinators and Ecological Landscape Design. Learn more about the NOFA’s Land Care programs or contact Sanne for a garden consultation through the NOFA/RI website.
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