Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District Honors the Carrier Family as the 2013 Conservation Farm of the Year. (Submitted photos by Sharon Driscoll)
By Troy Bishopp
(Canastota, NY -March 2013) Wendell Berry’s question seems quite relevant in honoring the Carrier Family of ABC-NBR Dairy Farms as Madison County’s newest Conservation Farm of the Year. In answering his own inquiry, Berry quips, there are lots of reasons, but the plainest is: conservationists eat.
In the quest to follow the tradition of nourishing the soil, animals and a community, Farm Manager Rick Carrier fully admits dairy farming has become a complicated business.
“However, when you’ve inherited the farmer gene, the ties to the land are too strong to deny,” Rick Carrier said.
This connection to the local community started back in 1944 along the northern edge of the Erie Canal in Wampsville when Leo Carrier honored his wife by naming their three distinct pieces of land “ABC Farms” after Alice-Betty-Carrier. A once-state trooper, Leo and his family found their true passion in building a diverse farm that included a herd of Milking Shorthorns and raising and selling high quality Pinto horses.
In fact, he became the first president of the Pinto Horse Association and a director for the Shorthorn Breeders Association.
In 1955, son Dick Carrier carried the family into a full-fledged dairy venture starting with 40 cows and eventually rising to 300 head before son Rick took the reins. Back then, Dick was very connected to the students of Canastota High School’s agriculture class, where they would regularly design and build projects on his farm as a way to get practical training and knowledge in the field of agriculture.
Some of these interactions with forward-thinking students produced cutting-edge designs at the time and were lauded in many national Dairymen’s League journals.
These innovations included a separate milking parlor center for any expansion plans, a unique u-turn parlor design, a wash water recycling system, an automatic silage feeding system and using double-cropped oats and corn to maximize forage capacity on the heavy soils, which Dick said produced more than his neighbor’s hill farms.
An important practice started in the 1960s brought to light by long-time friend and employee Dick Stokes and still followed today is providing staff with two consecutive days off regularly.
“It’s always been our mission to strive for a quality of life,” Dick Carrier said.
Third-generation and Morrisville State College graduate Rick Carrier assumed the helm in 1980 from his dad. He encouraged him to join the ranks of the “Madison County Swamp Farmers Association,” trying to make a living on heavy clay soils adjacent to the Cowaselon Creek watershed and famous table-top flat Great Swamp muck lands (the second largest onion-growing district in the United States in 1930) in the towns of Lenox and Sullivan.
Today’s farming operation is an extension of its humble beginnings and values.
The family expanded the dairy to leased facilities in 2008 and kept the home farm for crops and raising replacement heifers, as well as operating a therapeutic horseback riding non-profit for physically and mentally challenged kids and adults.
The operation now encompasses more than 1,200 acres of owned and leased land for corn and forage production feeding 600 milk cows and 600 head of replacements with six full-time and five seasonal employees plus the family unit.
“Our staff is a super-conscientious bunch who treat the operation like it was their own,” Rick Carrier said.
The family oversees the operational decisions encompassed in morning staff meetings with cover-alled, Dad Rick as the overall manager/planner, accountant and facilitator. Eldest son, Rich, oversees the cropping and feeding operations, as well as the equipment maintenance and nutrient management.
Joking, “If there’s bad feed, we get to yell at him,” says dad.
Daughter Carrie is the herdswoman (also affectionately known as the cow-hiney checker) and responsible for the three-times-a-day milking operations. Daughter-in-law Sarah manages the calf-raising operations and helps Carrie with animal husbandry duties.
Rick’s wife, Sandy, keeps the school-age twin boys, Josiah and Joshua on track around the home farm and is credited with “employee relations,” keeping folks fed and running for parts in addition to managing the Ride for Life Equine and Family Center.
“Because we’ve grown the farm operation, we have more responsibilities and regulation when it comes to the environment,” said Rich. “It’s been critical to work with Madison County’s nutrient management planner, Dave Livermore, who helps us keep on track with soil testing, fertilizer recommendations and manure management that aids in improving soil structure and increasing forage yields while building organic matter.
“The Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District has helped us stay proactive in exploring minimum tillage, cover crops and double-cropping strategies with their zone till/no-till drills, in addition to designing and overseeing construction of manure storage structures, leachate collection systems, heavy use areas and drainage issues that improve water quality.
“Our agribusiness and agency partners are also an integral to this mission of watershed protection, as they help us with financial resources, crop decisions, feed rations, equipment and planning for the future.”
This conservation award-winning farm was the first farm to pilot and inspire others to recycle agriculture plastics through the county’s new initiative. They have 60 acres in a conservation easement program with the Farm Service Agency for wildlife habitat.
The family is a big supporter of the county’s Cornell Cooperative Extension Profit Advisory Team, which they use three times a year to make important decisions. The family volunteers for the local fire department (Rick is a former chief and 35 year member) and the Madison County Cornell Cooperative Advisory Board.
Probably the most significant contribution to the community in addition to running a full-time farm is the fact that Sandy and Rick Carrier and the family have been parents to more than 40 foster children from the area.
When comparing the conservation plans and obligations to protect the natural resources while producing needed local food between 1944 and 2013, the binders of planning, information, regulation and responsibility, as you might imagine, are “significantly” thicker!
When asked what it means to be awarded the Madison County Conservation Farm of the Year for 2013, Rick Carrier summed it up quite appropriately.
“This honors our family’s mission and passion in taking care of the soil, animals and the people we’ve been blessed with and for the next generations,” he said. “I can honestly say if you love your work, it’s not a job.”
Troy Bishopp is grazing specialist for the Madison Co. SWCD/Upper Susquehanna Coalition. He can be reached at (315) 824-9849 ext. 110, email@example.com or thegrasswhisperer.com.