An Individual Decision

Dale Welch is an organic beef farmer in Rappahannock County. Once considering himself an opponent to all things "environmental", he decided to participate in a Best Management Practice cost-share out of wholly economic motivations.

Mr. Welch was able to find cost-share funding to benefit his cattle and the management of his farm through streamside fencing and planting of cover crops.

Since first joining the program, his farm has become much more self-sustaining. He grows cover crops and uses buffer strips which enable the ground to better absorb its fertilization. The fertilizer he uses all comes from his own cows; he does not buy any commercially produced fertilizer. Moreover, using the practices, he has been able to mold the farm to exactly the way he sees it producing best.

  • Acreage: 200 acres farmed with 800 owned
  • Type of farm: Organic beef farm with 250 acres in pasture
  • Funded Conservation Practices:
    Best Management Practice buffer strips and cover crops
    Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), fencing off the pond, fencing off the pond run-off and creek, and installing an automatic waterer


Best Management Practice: a voluntary farm installation that improves water quality.

Cover Crop: a crop grown to prevent soil erosion by wind and water. Cover crops can also replace nitrogen into the soil.

Buffer strips: Swaths of vegetation or woods that reduce erosion and surface runoff and improve surface water quality by slowing down and filtering water.

An Interview with Dale Welch of W.R. Welch & Sons

In the summer of 2010, PEC Fellow Sarah Brey interviewed Dale about the successful Best Management Practices he has established. Here's what he had to say:

When did you decide to start putting Best Management Practices in place?

One winter morning when I came up to feed, I had lost six head of cattle. They had been walking over the pond on the ice to get to the overflow where the water was still running and had fallen in and drowned. I made my mind up right then that that wasn't going to happen again.

Were there key people who helped you make the decision?

That same year I had been reported to the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) by a neighbor for the contamination caused by my cattle being in the creek. They were going to fine me three thousand dollars a day if I didn't make any changes; so that was kind of a kick in the butt to get things done. Really, they did me a favor.

How did you hear about Best Management Practices?

When I first heard about the program, I thought it would be an infraction on my rights as a landowner. But I became interested when I heard there was money, which would help me fence out the pond, something that I had already decided to do. It was either this, go broke because of the DEQ fine, or get rid of my cattle.

Once you decided to put BMPs in place, who were some of the key people that helped you through the process? What did they do?
Nancy Utz from the Culpeper Soil and Water Conservation District was a very helpful person to work with. The technician you work with, whoever they may be, should know the land. I know the land.

Were there any setbacks to reaching your desired outcome?

There was one project in which I didn't like the way the fences were going to run. It turned out not to be a problem because you can change the details; you can tweak each project. Actually, I say no to plans quite a bit. You just have to make sure you work really well with the person from the soil and water conservation district during the planning part of the project.

Are there any aspects of the process which you figured out along the way which would have been helpful to understand in the beginning?

Specifically to my projects, I would have installed a wider aisle way for the cattle to cross in winter, and maybe even put gravel on it so that it would be more easily accessed in snow.

Have your projects yielded any economic benefits?

There are the economic benefits that are now part of my land, like all of the new fencing and these automatic fresh waterers. There is also the health value that the projects give to the cattle. I don't have to spend nearly as much money on medicine for the cows and the beef I sell is healthier too.

Has the character of your land changed in any way as a result of the project?

I can see how much more lush and green all the streamsides are.

We are in the middle of a drought but look at how green these crops are, and they have had nothing but the beef manure from my own cows, there is ZERO commercial fertilizer on these fields. It shows that the ground works much better with natural fertilizer.

Do you enjoy having this completed project as part of your land?

The lay of the land changes and the management of my cattle has been adjusted. My farming style now allows for more management of the cattle day to day. This has been a pleasant adjustment.

I guess I have evolved to become a bit of an environmentalist in my concern for the preservation of the water and the soil. As farmers, we have to take good care of our land to be productive and to be successful.

Has the project led to any other changes in your land and the way you use it beyond the projects specific purpose?

Everything I do is decided through a very involved process of making one thing work with the others. If you do one thing, there are other consequences to consider.

After I fenced a creek off, I had to take it one step farther to raise better cattle. I might lose ten feet when I fence off the creek, but that means I have to make the rest of the land that much better. It isn't any more work, you just have to take care of the land that you do farm that much better.

Now I hate the areas where I keep my cattle that the creeks haven't been fenced off. With all of the erosion, the creek is like a death trench. I lost three baby cows this year due to one of those creeks. Plus, the cows just stand in the water and I have to pay for medication. Really, the cows are more expensive and I have more problems to deal with on the non-managed pastures.

Are you considering any continuing practices after your contract retires?

As long as the landowner will let me install BMPs, I will continue to use them.

How do you feel that your participation in the program fits into the larger scheme of things?

Hopefully others feel the same as I do about taking care of the streams but I won't push my neighbor to make any conservation decisions. It has to be an individual's decision. There are organic farms that I wouldn't partner with because of my individualism as a farmer. You can travel to ten farms, and you won't find any farmer that does exactly the same thing. We all have a different way of doing things. So even though I can't guarantee that my neighbor will use any conservation measures, I can control my own sector of the stream. I'm not looking to turn the world around but I have made an impact.

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