Published on 03/19/09

Environmentally friendly agriculture

By Sharon Dowdy
University of Georgia

Twenty years ago, Terry Chandler and his wife, Deborah, moved their family to a 200-acre farm in Madison County. The land was in terrible shape. The only thing it had was potential. They worked hard to improve it, and for their efforts Gov. Sonny Perdue awarded them the fourth annual Governor’s Agricultural Environmental Stewardship Award.

The award -- given during a ceremony to kick off National Agriculture Awareness Week in Atlanta on March 17 -- honors farmers who incorporate environmentally friendly practices on their farms, creating a sustainable system.

“Georgia’s agricultural community is innovative and resilient,” Perdue said. “They will emerge from this challenging [economic] time stronger and even more focused on providing great products, running efficient operations, and utilizing cutting-edge technologies to bring food to the tables of Georgians and people all around the world.”

When the Chandlers arrived at Still Water Farm in Danielsville, its top soil was long gone. Almost all the structures, including the farm house and hog floor, were overgrown, collapsed or both. The jungle of Chinese privet stood strong.

The pond was silted in and the dam was about to collapse, too. The land needed some care and proper stewardship to rebound. One million chickens, 24,000 hogs and hundreds of cows later, the farm today is in much better shape.

The farm now consists of 145 acres of pasture, 80 beef cattle, 2 chicken houses, 35 acres of timber and produces 700 tons of hay each year.

Through it all runs 5 miles of fencing, creating eight 5-acre paddocks and nine 10-acre paddocks. More than 1.5 miles of underground water lines supply water to each paddock.

Chandler converted the farm’s old wet area that couldn’t be worked into a wildlife pond. He cleared, sloped and grassed the stream banks and converted the hog-waste lagoon to catch all runoff from the poultry, cattle and hay barn roofs.

Four other district stewardship winners were honored by Perdue for their efforts to protect and preserve the environment on their farms: Billy Max James of Cohutta Farms in Ellijay; Tom Bradbury of Bradbury Farms in Montrose; Will Harris of White Oak Pastures in Bluffton; and Clayton Wayne McKinnon of McKinnon Farms in Douglas.

District winners received signs for their farms to serve as permanent recognition of their environmental efforts.

Chandler doesn’t intend to stop improving his land just because he’s now the state’s top agricultural environmental steward. He plans to construct a manure storage facility and more fencing to protect surface water, impound more water and improve nutrient management.

Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.