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December 17, 2013

 

E-Z Acres wins stewardship award

Award

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Pete, left, and Mike McMahon inside their new barn on their E-Z Acres farm on West Scott Road in Homer. The farm won the 2013 Environmental Steward Award presented by the Skaneateles Watershed Agriculture Program.

By TYRONE L. HEPPARD
Staff Reporter
theppard@cortlandstandardnews.net

HOMER — For nearly 60 years, E-Z Acres farm has produced dairy products for residents and in the past, the McMahon family has been recognized for doing so while educating consumers, teaching students and raising happy and healthy livestock.
This year, the farm added protecting the environment to the list.
On Dec. 9, the Skaneateles Lake Watershed Agricultural Program presented E-Z Acres with its Environmental Steward Award, recognizing the way the farm manages environmental safeguards and guidelines.
Initiated in 1994 and funded by the Onondaga County Soil and Water Conservation District, the program is part of a partnership between the city of Syracuse and farmers from three counties who come together in an effort to prevent agricultural operations within the Skaneateles Lake Watershed from polluting the lake.
The program educates farmers on best management practices — or what people in the industry call BMPs — and how to protect the lake from potential pollutants while assisting with whole farm planning, or approaches to farm management that help to prioritize environmental issues on a farm without compromising business.
In addition to being located on top of Cortland County’s sole-source aquifer, E-Z Acres is also located in the Skaneateles Lake watershed, which is the reason why the program selected the Homer-based farm operation.
Program Manager Mike Burger said the Stewardship Award is not something the program hands out often, and he added that this year’s decision to present it to E-Z Acres was well-earned and well deserved.
“It’s not every year we give this award,” Burger said. “We wait until we think there’s a farm that’s deserving ... (and) we thought it was a good idea to nominate this farm.”
Mike McMahon, who operates the farm with his brother, Pete, said one of the most effective BMPs implemented at the farm involves precision feeding, or closely monitoring dairy cow’s food intake to ensure manure has a minimal level of phosphorus and nitrogen, which is done with the help of resident nutritionist Tom Tylutki.
McMahon added that while strict standards and regulations from the state Department of Environment Conservation help keep the E-Z Acres in compliance with state regulations, environmental safety was a top priority for his family’s operation well before receiving recognition. The farm operates a 680-cow dairy on 1,900 total acres.
“Starting back in 1996, (we started) voluntary well sampling every three months ... just to check our own agricultural practices,” McMahon said. “We knew it would be a good idea to be ahead of the curve instead of behind it.”
Each annual meeting has a special topic of discussion and this year’s theme was renewable energy and by the time of the meeting, the farm had already taken the initiative and swapped out older 250-watt halide and high-pressure sodium bulbs with 128-watt T5 bulbs in nine buildings on the farm, which he says are extremely efficient, producing more light at half the cost.
McMahon said that although he would like to see more forms of renewable energy implemented on the farm, digesters similar to those used at wastewater treatment plants to produce energy are too costly.
“The investment is outrageous for an operation this size,” McMahon said, “That’s not to say we won’t consider them in the future.”
He added the farm continues to look for other ways to increase efficiency while continuing to make environmental safety its top priority.
McMahon has won similar awards in the past, and he said that although he is glad the farm was recognized for what it has been doing to help the environment, the accolades are not what has motivated E-Z Acres to protect the farmland that has been in his family for decades.
“It’s always good to be recognized by your peers, (but) the things we do on this operation; we do it because it’s the right thing to do,” McMahon said. “Your environment is everything around you and in many cases it’s people. When I talk about the environment it means community as well.”

 

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