Stewards of the Land at Bullard Farms
From an app on his smartphone, Collins Bullard monitors water and energy use in his turkey barns. His family composts and applies the resultant soil nutrient to their fields. And the Bullards precisely apply fertilizer only where needed with the guidance of annual soil samples and global-positioning satellites.
The world may honor Earth Day in April, but Bullard Farms makes environmental stewardship part of its regular routine. The family recognizes and respects the interdependence of caring for the land and farm profitability.
“I don’t think farmers get enough credit for environmental stewardship, but we’re not looking for a pat on the back,” says Collins Bullard, who owns Bullard Farms with his wife, Alison, and father, Ray, in Cumberland County. “We make our living off the soil, and if we don’t care about it, we’re basically shooting ourselves in the foot. You’ve got to care for the land or it’s not going to take care of you.”
Last year, the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association gave the Bullards a deserving pat on the back with one of the association’s five nationwide Family Farm Environmental Excellence Awards. Bullard Farms earned the honor for its exemplary environmental stewardship in the management of nutrient waste products from the 180,000 tom turkeys the family raises per year. The Bullards use compost, turkey litter (a mixture of manure, spilled feed, feathers and bedding) and manure from their farm’s hogs to naturally fertilize their fields of corn, wheat, soybeans, hay, watermelon and sweet corn.
“I try to do some things the way it’s always been done, and we try to improve on some things,” says Bullard, a fifth-generation farmer. “Technology changes the way everything runs.”
The turkeys at Bullard Farms generate nearly 2,500 tons of litter per year, and the Bullard family makes sure this “waste” is not wasted. Rather, the material fuels a full-circle process: turkeys and hogs produce litter and manure to fertilize field crops, which, in turn, feed the turkeys and hogs.
Applying manure as fertilizer on farm fields is an age-old farm practice, and the Bullards carry a depth of farm experience dating back to 1855. But, the previous generations never witnessed the wonders of technology and wealth of research that makes Bullard Farms more environmentally conscious today than ever before.
Bullard tests his soils every year in a repeated, site-specific grid pattern, making sure he knows the exact level of nutrients present in every area of a field.
“Our soil types change so much that a 10-acre field can have as many as three or four soil types,” Bullard says. “Some soil types are more conducive to litter as far as nutrient buildup.”
Likewise, the Bullards test their farm’s litter content for nutrient values while the fertilizer product awaits use from storage, which is covered to prevent nutrient runoff and protect groundwater. The family also analyzes nutrient needs for their crops – even during the growing season with tissue samples. With the help of agronomists, they combine all of this information with soil-sampling results to create variable-rate prescriptions for application of their farm-generated fertilizer, as well as supplemental commercial fertilizer.
The family can use global-positioning satellites to control applications of fertilizer at variable rates across their fields based on specific needs. In the old days, technology allowed nothing more than straight spreading the same amount of fertilizer across an entire field.
“We’re really able to take a piece of farmland and place the nutrients where they’re needed,” Bullard says. “You have to treat spots in the field as individual pieces of land.”
Reduce and Reuse
From his smartphone, Bullard monitors and controls activities in his eight turkey houses and three hog barns. The phone will sound an alarm if water, energy or feed usage surpasses set parameters. The alarm continues until the family finds and fixes the problem to prevent water spills and recognize overuse, Bullard says.
Similarly, computer programs control fans and heating and cooling equipment in the barns to keep energy use at a minimum while maintaining a comfortable 70-degrees in the winter and 75-degree environments in the summer.
– Joanie Stiers