Dairy with a Plan

Ken Smith uses a Nutrient Management Plan and other Best Management Practices to keep his dairy and fields clean and efficient.

Ken Smith and Brittan Greene run a 1,500 acre dairy farm just south of Warrenton in Fauquier County. Their farm, Cool Lawn Farms, is located in a populated place, making community perception of their farm exceedingly important. And thanks in part to a successful Nutrient Management Plan the community’s perception of their farm is encouraging.

Not too many years ago, Ken and Brittan decided to transition the farm into a grazing dairy. Many benefits associated with the implemented Best Management Practices have kept the community supportive of their dairy while also ensuring the smooth transition to grazing cattle. These practices are economically valuable for many reasons, one of which is protection of the Rappahannock River which flows along the bottom portion of his farm.

  • Acreage: 500 acres owned + 1500 acres farmed
  • Type of farm: Dairy farm with 250 acres of pasture, everything else is forage crops and hay raised for the dairy cattle.
  • Funded Conservation Practices:
    Cover crops; Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) — 1 year contract.
    Fencing/ waterways/lanes to move cattle (easier grazing management) and protected waterways; SWCD — 1 year contract.
    Nutrient Management Plan (two manure storages); Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) — 15 year contract.


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

Nutrient Management Plan: a plan to manage the amount, form, placement, and timing of the application of nutrients (i.e. fertilizers, manure, etc).

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

An Interview with Ken Smith of Cool Lawn Farms

In the summer of 2010, PEC Fellow Sarah Brey interviewed Ken about the successful Best Management Practices he has established on his dairy farm. After the interview, Brittan gave her a tour of the farm and some of the practices implemented.

When did you start farming?

I grew up in an agricultural family. It was when I was sitting in college studying agricultural economics, and hating it, that I realized I wanted to go into farming. I took over the farm from my father and my son will take over it for me.

How did you hear about Best Management Practices?

I first heard about the programs through someone at the Soil and Water Conservation District.

How did you decide to participate in conservation programs?

I decided to do the programs because of money. Most of my conservation practices have been based on the agronomics that I use to plant and harvest my crops.  The cover crops give me utilization of my nitrogen so I don’t have volatility, it reduces my phosphorous levels in the soil through the constant application of manure from my dairy farm and any producer who keeps cattle tends to use the manure for fertility.

When I first started my grazing operation, the John Marshall SWCD helped me run water out of the pastures and build cattle travel lanes to and from the pastures – a big help in establishing my grazing practices. The lanes cut across pasture land and water crossings, stabilizing the constant flow of cattle out to the pastures.  Ultimately these lanes encourage the rotational grazing style of dairy farming and grass leads to less erosion, less sedimentation than the row crops which he had previously grown as feed for his cattle.

Once you decided to do the program, who were some of the key people that helped you through the process?

The John Marshall Soil and Water Conservation District is the organization I mainly work with, specifically Tom Turner. Tom presented the progam, did the analysis on the farm and set up the paperwork and payment reimbursements. Along with Tom, the Natural Resource Conservation District (NRCS) who have offices nearby.  The NRCS is the organization that did mapping and technical stuff and helped pay for the nutrient management plan implementation.

Were there any setbacks to reaching your desired outcome?

It has all gone smoothly.  They want to do the right thing and we want to do the right thing, they just help you do the right thing.  The stresses come from meeting the timetable and finding the right seeds when planting the cover crops.  But when you put the manure down and you know that it won’t run off, that the rye will hold the soil in place along with the nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment there will be less erosion and leaching, there is ultimately less stress.

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

There really are financial benefits that are unseen. Some savings may come in a year after the conservation practices but they are savings which may be hard to recognize beforehand.

Have your projects yielded economic benefits?

Yes, the end results are financially worth the stresses and upfront costs.

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

We have green fields in the middle of winter, and some of my landlords want the cover crops planted on their land too! Unfortunately, there are time tables on this stuff and we only have time to take care of so much land in the fall.

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

Because of the manure retention, I am able to do a better job of controlling my spreading, get more value out of my manure, and purchase less commercial fertilizer.

Are you considering any continuing practices after your contract retires?

I have done these practices for so long I knew what to expect. In most cases, I would do these practices even without assistance simply for the economic benefits they give, I might not plant all of the cover crops they ask me to, but I would still go ahead and plant some cover crops.

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

If I put less pollution in a local stream, it puts fewer restrictions on me in continuing and expanding my dairy. Best Management Practices provide green fields in winter and reduce the scent and volatility of fertilization.

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