Title: 1998 Ag-Environmental: V&W Farms
Type: Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award
The roots of V&W Farms, Inc., are firmly entrenched in South Florida. It began its life 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, Inc., moved to its present location west of Avon Park in Hardee County.
Joe Wright, General Manager, V&W Farms, Inc.: "We’re a traditional South Florida dairy that moved here from the Miami area. Today it’s an 1,800 cow dairy, approximately, with 1,500 replacement heifers, more or less, 30 full-time employees. We've recently consolidated everything on one 1,800-acre tract of land.
The V&W dairy has a well-deserved reputation for producing a quality product for Florida consumers. Knowing that the cows are the most important part of the dairy operation, careful, hands-on attention is given to each member of the herd. Proper nutrition and individual care ensures a healthy cow, which in turn means a high-volume milk supply.
Joe Wright: In 1997 we shipped over 28 million pounds. Divide that by 8.6 to get the number of gallons. We'll go as low as 7,000 gallons a day in summer; but we'll peak out at around 11,000 gallons a day in the wintertime.
Moreover, it’s the solid commitment to the environment that makes V&W Dairy a credit to Florida’s agri-business community. Improvements in conservation methods begun by owner Charles Williams have been continued by his son in law, Joe Wright.
Joe Wright: You have to utilize that land like you want to be there forever. And what that means, you try to use cutting-edge technology. You don't do things you'd be ashamed of; you don't do things you'd be afraid to show your mother, and you really take a perspective that you want your children and your grandchildren to be able to utilize the land for the same activity you are. And by that, that means when you take something, you need to give back. And that’s really the prospective that you take as steward of the land. It’s not yours. We're only here temporarily."
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 which utilizes an efficient and beneficial cycle.
Joe Wright: What we do on a daily basis is recycle water. We not only send water into our waste-water lagoons, but we can pump out of those lagoons, not only to irrigate crops, but we can bring it back up to the barns and wash the floors in the barns.
A 10,000-gallon tank filled with recycled wastewater 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 wastewater, the dairy is able to continually wash down the feed barns without any additional cost or labor.
Water used for wash-down purposed drains from the feed barns towards a central collect point. This concrete-lined canal carries the water to the first stage of a two-stage lagoon system; there the breakdown of the waste occurs. Next, the wastewater is gravity-fed through an underground 24-inch pipe to the second stage of the lagoon where anaerobic activity further breaks down the waste.
From the far-side of the u-shaped holding pond the water is pumped for use in the irrigation systems and for flushing the feed barns. Giant sprinklers and a central pivot are employed to distribute the waste water over crops of corn, sorghum and grass fields, where remaining nutrients are absorbed.
Joe Wright: The solution to pollution is dilution. We do pay a conscious effort in that whatever we grow is making net removal, even large net removals of nitrogen and phosphorus and so forth.
V&W conservation efforts are not limited to water reclamation. The dairy uses a system of crop rotation and leaving fields fallow to prevent soil erosion.
Joe Wright: We look at it as a three-crop-a year rotation. Now, there’s some strategic, you know, decisions you can make in the winter. Sometimes we may skip a second sorghum crop and intentionally plant a winter crop such as oats. Matter of fact, we're doing that with a hundred acre field this winter that was in corn that we're not replanting in sorghum; we're going to let that land rest.
V&W now has about 475 acres for double cropping corn and sorghum and 150 acres for grass hay fields. The dairy is planting new, improved grasses such as Florakirk and Tifton 85 developed by the Extension Service, the SCS, 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 Dairy. The dairy cows themselves do their part to help out the environment.
Joe Wright: Cows are recyclers. Many of the things we feed would be human waste, some directly into a landfill, if the dairy cows or some other form of livestock would not consume them. And that would get into items like bakery waste, wet brewers grain, your corn by-products, soybean products, and cotton seed products, whatever it would be a by-product without any other obvious use, were it not for the cows. Cows are able to extract additional nutrients out of those things and actually use and metabolize it in the manufacturing of milk.
Forming the farm's southern boundary is a tract of oaks, pines, and palmettos. The V&W Dairy plans to protect and preserve this land by leaving it in its natural state.
Joe Wright: There's close to 600 acres of very native woods and palmetto country in this mass we have and I would hope to keep a portion of that land native forever; not just for a buffer, but just for the joy of driving through some old Florida native land.
A great deal of thought and planning has gone into creating the complex, inter-related systems that govern the V&W Dairy. Such systems may promote longevity in the business world, but this is not the only reason for creating it.
Joe Wright: You have to take the attitude in farming that you're doing this for the long haul. I mean, farming has so many ups and downs; you have to treat this land like you want to farm here forever, and you want your son or daughter to farm here forever. You have to use the best practices that are available at that time. When you run into a stumbling block, you can't just stop at the first answer you get. You have to talk to your extension agent. You need to call the universities, and you really have to try to be progressive, because certain thing will always change. So you have to stay ahead of the game, and we're learning new things all the time.