New York State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball today joined the Sand County Foundation to announce that Dygert Farms of Palatine Bridge has been selected for the 2023 New York Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM)-Leopold Conservation Award. The distinguished award honors a farm and its nominating Soil and Water Conservation District for their efforts to protect the environment through the preservation of soil and water quality. Commissioner Ball and partners from the Sand County Foundation visited Dygert Farms today, ahead of the start of Climate Week 2023, to present the award during the Dygert family’s celebration of the farm’s tricentennial anniversary this year.
Owned and operated by Robby and Shannon Dygert, Dygert Farms is a 270-cow dairy farm and dairy processing operation, which crops to feed its cows on 650 acres in Montgomery County. The family also operates Dygert Farms Creamery. Rich in history, the farm is celebrating its tricentennial anniversary in 2023. Through collaboration with the Montgomery County Soil and Water Conservation District, the farm’s planner, and the State’s AEM Program, the Dygerts have adopted many conservation practices to cycle on-farm nutrients for crop production, continually build soil health, and protect water quality while helping to ensure farm viability for future generations
Given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, the Leopold Conservation Award (LCA) recognizes farmers, ranchers and forestland owners who inspire others with their dedication to land, water, and wildlife habitat management on working land. The award is presented to landowners in 27 states. New York’s longstanding Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM) Award joined with the nationally recognized Leopold Conservation Award® program in 2020.
Earlier this year, New York State Soil and Water Conservation Districts were encouraged to identify and nominate the best examples of conservation success in their district. Applications were reviewed and in addition to Dygert Farms, two other farms were recognized for their stewardship and leadership: Humbert Farms of Rose in Wayne County and Tongore Farm of Olivebridge in Ulster County.
Commissioner Ball said, “The AEM-Leopold Conservation Award honors the best of the best in conservation and progressive farming. On behalf of the Department and New York State, I’d like to congratulate Dygert Farms on receiving this esteemed award today. Time and again, they have demonstrated their innovative environmental practices, leadership, and dedication to giving back to their community, and I’m proud to stand alongside our partners at the Sand County Foundation to honor them for their efforts, especially as they celebrate 300 years of their family farm.”
Kevin McAleese, Sand County Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer, said, “These award finalists are examples of how Aldo Leopold’s land ethic is alive and well today. Their dedication to conservation shows how individuals can improve the health of the land while producing food and fiber.”
Robby and Shannon Dygert of Dygert Farms said, “We are truly honored to receive this prestigious award, noting the many years of continuously working with the Montgomery County Soil and Water Conservation District in utilizing the AEM Program, and thank the Sand County Foundation for their support here in New York. As we celebrate our farm’s Tri Centennial this year, receiving this award acknowledges three centuries of the Dygert Family caring for the land and constantly striving to implement best management practices that will leave the land better than how the generations before us have found it. We look forward to continuing to be proactive and progressive stewards of the land to preserve and protect our valued resources for the next generation here in the historic Mohawk Valley.”
New York State Soil and Water Conservation Committee Chair Dale Stein said, “Congratulations to the Dygert family on being honored with this distinguished award. Their work with the Montgomery County Soil and Water Conservation District has helped them to implement conservation practices including minimum/no-till planting, cover cropping, clean water diversion practices, and whole farm nutrient management. They are true examples of environmental stewardship in our New York State agricultural community.”
John Piotti, American Farmland Trust President and Chief Executive Officer, said, “As the national sponsor for Sand County Foundation’s Leopold Conservation Award, American Farmland Trust celebrates the hard work and dedication of the New York recipient. At AFT we believe that conservation in agriculture requires a focus on the land, the practices, and the people and this award recognizes the integral role of all three.”
Sand County Foundation, a national nonprofit conservation organization, presents the $10,000 cash award to the Dygert Farms through the support of American Farmland Trust, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, Cornell Cooperative Extension, The Ida and Robert Gordon Family Foundation, Farm Credit East, Audubon New York, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the New York State Agribusiness Association.
Last year’s recipient was Greenfield Farms of Skaneateles. For more information on the award, visit www.leopoldconservationaward.org.
ABOUT DYGERT FARMS
There’s a rich heritage of sustainability deeply rooted in the soil at Dygert Farms.
Like the family members 12 generations before him, Robby Dygert farms with an eye to the future. He celebrates the farm’s tricentennial this year with his wife Shannon, and their children: Dylan, Olivia, Tucker, and Cassidy.
The couple purchased the family’s farm and their first 65 Holstein cows shortly after getting married in 2009. The farm has since grown to a milking herd of 270 cows and 650 acres of owned and rented land.
Robby and Shannon are the latest in a long line of Dygerts who protect this dairy farm’s soil and water resources. When Dygert Farms’ first conservation plan was written over 60 years ago, in 1962, it provided a blueprint for crop rotations, contour strips, tile drainage, and pasture renovation. More recently, Robby and Shannon sought the support of the Montgomery County Soil and Water Conservation District to protect water quality with modern improvements to the farm’s infrastructure.
Through participation in New York’s AEM program, the Dygerts received financial assistance to construct a manure storage facility and covered laneway between their barnyards. They also installed a system that collects and treats leachate from their silage bunk silos.
Dygert Farms works with a team of professionals to manage their soil, water, and livestock manure to maximize crop yields while protecting ground water supplies. A custom manure applicator applies the manure nutrients to crop fields in accordance with the farm’s Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan. A planner helps the Dygerts regularly update the plan to reflect the changes in crop rotations, livestock numbers, planned new practices, and seasonal weather conditions. All wash water from their milkhouse and milking parlor is collected and stored to be later applied to fields as a fertilizer for crop production.
Strip-cropping, which acts as a filter strip within fields, has been a staple at Dygert Farms for decades. Five years of hay, followed by four years of corn is their preferred crop rotation. Minimal tillage is used adaptively on a few fields based on conditions, but the majority are managed with a no-till system to increase soil fertility, retain moisture, and prevent runoff. To achieve similar conservation goals, the Dygerts are growing rye cover crops on 50 acres of their cropland.
Sometimes sustainability in agriculture can mean simple economic survival. The Dygerts could have given up dairy farming when they lost a supplier to sell their milk to. Instead, they adapted to dairy’s ever-fluctuating market and business climate by retooling in a non-conventional way. They made the move to make, process, and sell their own dairy products, opening the Dygert Farms Creamery processing plant in 2021. Their milk is sold in grocery stores and delivered to the front doors of area homes. It’s a modern approach to dairy farming with a vintage twist. Dygert Farms was recently honored at the State’s 2023 Dairy Products Competition, winning gold in the Chocolate Milk category.
A unique mix of new and old is to be expected at Dygert Farms. Its farmhouse sits on the original 50 acres that was deeded to the Dygert family back in 1723 from the Queen of England. Its owners are young farmers using conservation practices to benefit the environment and their bottom line.
LEOPOLD CONSERVATION AWARD PROGRAM
The Leopold Conservation Award is a competitive award that recognizes landowner achievement in voluntary conservation. Sand County Foundation presents the award in California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and in New England (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont). www.leopoldconservationaward.org
NEW YORK STATE AEM AWARD
New York State’s annual Agricultural Environmental Management Award winners are chosen from nominees submitted by County Soil and Water Conservation Districts from around the state. The first Agricultural Environmental Management Award was presented in 2002; prior to that, the award was known as the Agricultural Stewardship Award.
New York State’s AEM framework is a model for the nation as a voluntary, incentive-based approach to protect natural resources and meet the economic needs of the agricultural community. Learn more at https://agriculture.ny.gov/soil-and-water/agricultural-environmental-management.
SAND COUNTY FOUNDATION
Sand County Foundation inspires and empowers a growing number of private landowners to ethically manage natural resources in their care, so future generations have clean and abundant water, healthy soil to support agriculture and forestry, plentiful habitat for wildlife and opportunities for outdoor recreation. www.sandcountyfoundation.org