Prince William Soil & Water Conservation District
By Kate Norris
In an area with rapidly changing land use, small-acreage horse operations are destined to become the next generation of agricultural land users. Historically, farmers have been outstanding stewards of the land, knowing that conserving soil and water resources on their land ensures years of productivity. Caring for your land in a way that reduces soil erosion and pollution from animal manure and excess fertilizers also helps to limit the need for strong regulatory action by county or state government officials.
Support for Budding Virginia"Grass-Farmers"
As a non-regulatory agency, Conservation Districts are here to guide your land management so that your operation remains in compliance with regional regulations-in northern Virginia the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act. Irresponsible land management can lead to complaints from neighbors or other concerned citizens. Following a Soil & Water Quality Conservation Plan developed through the Conservation District can help protect you from wrongful accusations. Developing a plan with short- and long-term goals will get you on your way to becoming a successful "grass farmer."
Once you have your plan, usually one of the most immediate actions you'll want to take is to overseed your pastures and/or apply fertilizer (always based on soil analysis results). If you have 10-acres of pasture or less, doing the work yourself is an economical option. Thus, you have to have the right equipment.
In the fall of 2002, the District purchased two pieces of pasture management equipment specifically suited to small-acreage horse operations. They are available to borrow. We have a spiker-seeder for seeding and aerating your pastures and a chain harrow (aka a drag) for better distribution of manure piles and for use to prepare your fields for the application of seed and fertilizer. Both pieces of equipment are small enough to be pulled by a riding mower.
Borrowing the equipment eliminates the need to purchase and maintain your own equipment or it can provide a free way to "try-out" equipment that you can purchase later. Contact the District to check on equipment availability and to reserve equipment for spring pasture management.
Are you already well on your way to creating green pastures and cleaner waters? If so, we'd like to recognize your efforts! The District has handsome (& free!) metal signs that indicate your commitment to protecting community waters in your role as a District "Cooperator." We think they're a "must-have" for the environmentally conscious horsekeeper. Hang it on your farm with pride. Call the District if you've cooperated in the past, if you've been doing the right thing all along, or if you're ready to start earning your sign. We'd like to see them everywhere!
Many other areas of the state are now looking at our District's outreach programs specifically developed for horse farms. This is quite a change from 7 years ago when we began our equine outreach program-others generally "snickered" at our efforts. Now we've become a model across the state. Thanks to the cooperation we've received from the many horse owners in Prince William County, Virginia we are drawing positive attention from both local and federal natural resource conservation agencies. We look forward to continued success and strive to provide you with the necessary support so that all our horse farm owners can become excellent conservationists and "grass farmers."