Commissioner's Agricultural Environmental Leadership Award
V&W Farms, Inc.
Avon Park, Florida
The roots of V&W Farms Inc., are firmly entrenched in South Florida. The business began as the Williams family dairy in the Miami area during the 1920s. As Miami expanded, the dairy relocated to Pompano-Delray Beach. In 1965, V&W Farms moved to its present location west of Avon Park in Hardee County.
The V&W dairy has a well-deserved reputation for producing a quality product for Florida consumers, producing between 7,000 and 11,000 gallons of milk a day. Knowing that the cows are the most important part of the dairy operation, careful, hands-on attention is given to each of the 1,800 cows in the herd. Proper nutrition and individual care ensure a healthy cow, which in turn means a high-volume milk supply.
Moreover, it’s the solid commitment to the environment that makes V&W Farms a credit to Florida’s agribusiness community. Improvements in conservation methods begun by owner Charles Williams have been continued by the leadership of his son-in-law, Joe Wright.
One of the first areas targeted for improvement by the dairy was its use of water. The V&W dairy designed a reclamation system that drastically cut down on the use of fresh water. Striving to create an environmentally sound waste management system, the dairy has implemented a procedure that utilizes an efficient and beneficial cycle.
Water used for wash-down purposes drains from the feed barns toward a central collection point. A canal then carries the water to a lagoon, where the breakdown of waste occurs. Next, the waste water is gravity-fed through an underground 24-inch pipe to the second stage of the lagoon, where anaerobic activity further breaks down the waste. The water then is pumped out for use in the irrigation systems and for flushing the feed barns.
The cows are fed in barns featuring free-standing stalls before being moved to the milking parlor. A 10,000-gallon tank filled with recycled waste water is used to flush out the barns after the herd has been fed. A torrent of water sweeps waste and debris from the sloped feed barn floor to the concrete canal. By reusing this waste water, the dairy is able to continually wash down the feed barns without any additional cost or labor.
A central pivot irrigation system is used to distribute the waste water over crops of corn, sorghum and hay fields, where remaining nutrients are absorbed. V&W now has about 475 acres for double-cropping corn and sorghum, and 150 acres for hay fields. The dairy is planting new, improved grasses developed by the Extension Service, the Soil and Water Conservation Service, and the University of Florida. These grasses are quick-growing and provide an excellent source of hay. The corn is chopped into silage and mixed with hay, sorghum, and other ingredients to yield a nutritious feed. This mixture is fed back to the herd and the cycle begins anew.
Water isn’t the only thing recycled at V&W Farms. The dairy cows do their part to help out the environment, consuming bakery waste products, such as wet brewers grain, corn, cottonseed and soybean by-products. The cows are able to extract additional nutrients out of these waste materials and metabolize it in the manufacturing of milk.
V&W Farms conservation efforts are not limited to water reclamation. The dairy uses a system of crop rotation and leaving fields fallow to prevent soil erosion. The principle rotation is corn, sorghum, and then possibly winter crops such as oats and rye. Rotation not only prevents the soil from eroding, it also helps maintain the presence of nutrients vital to future crops.
Forming the farm’s southern boundary is a 600-acre tract of oaks, pines, and palmettos. V&W Farms plans to protect and preserve this old Florida native land by leaving it in its natural state. -- 1998
- 1998 Agricultural Environmental Leadership Awards Booklet (PDF)
- Agricultural Environmental Leadership Award Nomination (PDF)