Friday, February 22, 2019

Going a Step Further with Environmental Stewardship

This blog was submitted by the National Pork Board in Celebration of National Ag Day.

The team at Dykhuis Farms, Inc. raises pigs and row crops in a system in which one complements the other. But, the men and women on the Holland, Michigan, farm are also raising environmental quality standards in an area where water quality is a major concern.

The farm owned and operated by Bob and Lorrie Dykhuis and their five children and their familiesdaughters Erin, Rachel, Cara and Jenna, and son Josephis home to around 18,000 sows and 3,000 corn and soybean acres. The farm that started with 80 sows in 1978 is rooted in core values surrounding animal welfare and environmental sustainability.

Those two go hand-in-hand, especially in how the Dykhuis Farms team approaches water quality. It’s emblematic of the holistic, complementary cycle that characterizes the western Michigan farm and the animals and crops it produces. The farm’s row crops help sustain the pigs the Dykhuis family raises, while the manure from the pigs provides valuable fertilizer to help achieve high crop yields.

RealPigFarming recently sat down to chat with Brock Gobrogge, certified crop adviser and crop manager for the farm. In addition to working to ensure the farm produces bumper crops, he’s tasked with utilizing manure from the pig side of the business. And, he’s leading a team who’s proving the value of pig manure as a way to sustain soil fertility in the long term.

RealPigFarming: Why is environmental stewardship so important to Dykhuis Farms?

Brock Gobrogge: It’s always been important on this farm. Today, Lake Makatawa is a high-phosphorous lake because of the concentration of livestock production in our area. We know that there can be an impact on water quality, and we have worked hard to not only establish best management practices, but go a step further to make sure we’re as environmentally responsible as we can be with everything. We want to make sure we’re not only not harming the environment, but that we are doing things that can improve both the environment and our water quality.

RPF: What are some of the things you do to accomplish that?

BG: We are aware of the most agronomically and environmentally sound practices possible. We are attentive to the composition of the manure from our pig farm, and are always thinking of the best ways to utilize it on our crop fields. We conduct soil nutrient tests every two years, and we test our manure with every application so we know we are applying exactly the right amount. All of our equipment is “smart” equipment, so we can apply precisely based on what our soils and crops need. We’re doing a lot better matching those things up. And, we have invested in systems that allow us to store more than a year’s worth of manure, which enables us to get more out of that manure from an agronomy standpoint.

RPF: How would you grade yourself on these efforts?

BG: We’ve been able to achieve more balanced soil fertility in our fields. We know where our phosphorous levels are lacking, and we are able to apply precisely the amounts we need. We’ve found there’s a real monetary value to our manure in how it helps feed the living organisms in the soil. That leads to better overall soil health, and it helps get those nutrients to the plants so we can raise healthier, higher-yielding crops. It’s a cyclical process with our manure. We can use what most consider a waste product to improve our crop yields and do a better job sustaining our pigs.

RPF: How do you see your environmental stewardship activities changing and improving in the future?

BG: There’s so much left to learn. We know we can raise healthy crops utilizing our pigs’ manure, but how do we raise even healthier crops? We can pour all the nutrients into our soil that we can, but we’re not using them efficiently if we’re not getting those nutrients to the plants themselves. We’re at a high level of production now, but we’re just at the tip of the iceberg with our ability to improve our soils and crops using manure. There’s so much about soil microbiology that we don’t know yet. Manure is one way to improve soil conditions, but we don’t know all of its benefits yet. We’ll continue to learn and find ways that manure can benefit our crops.

On a broader level, I think more of the most progressive pig farms out there are starting to capitalize on the benefits of their manure. I think more pig farmers are sharpening their pencils and finding the right balance. We’re producing millions of gallons of manure a year, and we can use it in ways that increase our bottom line while protecting our waterways and the environment.