Corey and Bridgette Lutz are on the cutting edge of environmental stewardship.
The local farmers, named the State Conservation Farm Family of the Year award in 2001 by North Carolinaâ€™s State Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, milk 200 registered Jerseys on a scenic 240-acre parcel they purchased from Coreyâ€™s dad in 1997.
When they built their new dairy facility that year, they also invested about $50,000 to comply with the latest state environmental regulations.
The Lutzes received state and federal cost share funds to create their waste management system from scratch. Their efforts have not only improved the environment, but also enhanced the area.
The Lutzes have worked hard to implement new technologies to improve their land and herd. For example, the dairy farm features a very well-managed rotational grazing system which allows the cattle to feast on pasture about 300 days each year.
Half the pastures include rye and ryegrass for winter and spring grazing, and also sorghum sudan grass, which is ready for late spring grazing. For summer and fall, perennials abound, including alfalfa, matua and orchard grass.
A wooded buffer prevents the livestock from getting too close to public water access.
â€œMore than half of our property borders the South Fork River, and we maintain a 100-foot wooded buffer for our crops and livestock,â€ Bridgette says. â€œOur cows donâ€™t have access to any streams or the river.â€
Moreover, some 5,000 feet of stock trails are covered with Cow Carpet in 20-foot widths, which helps prevent run-off into public water resources.
To provide drinking water on the pastures from their well, the Lutzes purchased several portable 55-gallon barrels that are filled through a 6,000-foot underground pipeline system.
Since the cows are on pasture almost year-round, the Lutzes donâ€™t have barns to house the cattle. They do have a covered feeding area which is used daily to provide homegrown silage and grain that supplements pasture.
Cattle wastes from that area and the milking parlor are maintained in a waste storage pond until they are spread on pasture and crop land.
The pond differs from a livestock lagoon in that it features aerobic digestion, compared to anaerobic digestion typical in a lagoon.
As required by the state, the Lutzes keep a weekly log of how many pounds of waste are in the storage pond, plus records of where, when and how much nitrogen is applied per acre.
â€œWith our system, odors are minimal,â€ Corey says. In addition, to reduce chemical insecticide use, the Lutzes installed an electric bug zapper at the feed barn exit.
Impact on the bottom line
Since the Lutzes have a purebred herd, maintaining cow health is a top priority and environmental stewardship efforts have a major impact on profitability, Corey says.
â€œIf you donâ€™t maintain the land with proper nutrients, fertility will be compromised,â€ he says. â€œPoor soil leads to poor crops that canâ€™t provide all the dietary nutrients cows require for good health and high milk production.â€
For starters, they derive significant income from the sale of some 70 head annually, mostly bred heifers.
â€œHealthy cows stay in the herd longer,â€ Corey saysa. â€œThat means cows with outstanding genetics will produce more marketable offspring and help us stay profitable.â€
The Lutzes are also active on the show circuit, where sound, healthy cattle are paramount to success. Using the prefix Piedmont Jerseys, Corey, Bridgette and their children, James Pearson, 16, Mandy Lutz, 13, and Olivia Pearson, 9, are regular exhibitors at several regional and national cattle shows.
â€œLong range, we want to stay in the dairy business and we want to stay at 200 cows,â€ Corey says. â€œWith our grazing system, we can maintain a small herd and stay profitable.â€
Fortunately, the local situation is favorable for the Lutzes to maintain their lifestyle. In January 2003, Lincoln County implemented the use of voluntary agricultural districts for qualified landowners.
Since then, whenever a new home is planned for within one-half mile of a farm, the owner is informed, before construction begins, that his or her house is sited near an area officially designated for agricultural enterprises. Before receiving a building permit, the landowner must sign a statement saying they understand and accept the designation.
Approximately 30 of North Carolinaâ€™s 100 counties have agricultural districts or are in the process of implementing them, according to Rick McSwain, a natural resources conservationist for the Lincoln County Soil and Water Conservation District.
â€œThe Lutzes are innovative leaders in the North Carolina dairy industry when it comes to implementing new technologies that improve their land and their herd,â€ McSwain says. â€œTheir management skills and progressive mindset are sure to empower them in the years ahead.â€
Linda L. Leake is an award-winning freelance journalist who writes about the dairy industry from her home base in Wilmington.by Linda L. Leake, Correspondant