Following a conservation plan has been part of the history for Worley Farms, a diversified agricultural operation in eastern North Carolina's Wayne County. Bryant Worley has a copy of his grandfather's conservation plan, written in 1950, and his father's plan written in 1963.

“When you compare my present conservation plan with those, it's easy to see that best management practices have changed through the years,” Worley says. “For example, my grandfather's plan includes the advice to plant kudzu on highly erodible land. But we have always tried to keep abreast of the latest best management practices to use on our farm.”

Using those conservation practices has been an important part of managing livestock and crop enterprises in an environmentally sensitive area. Bryant and his wife, Debbie, live only a few yards from the Burden Branch of the Neuse River. That river has been a lightning rod for concerns about the effect of swine and poultry production on the environment.

“I strive to be an environmental steward because I want my children and grandchildren to have the same opportunities that I have had,” Bryant says. “Playing in the woods by the banks of clear streams, breathing fresh air and having clean water to drink are things I have enjoyed in my lifetime. I believe that having these things, while also raising a family with the income from a working farm, are both possible.”

Diversified approach

The Worley operation includes about 1,100 acres of cropland along with 300 acres of woodlands. The crop mix is diversified, including corn, soybeans and wheat along with 150 acres of tobacco and cotton most years.

Eight 720-head, tunnel-ventilated finishing units grow up to 15,000 hogs each year under contract with Maxwell Foods, based in Goldsboro, NC. The family also grows about 60,000 tom turkeys a year, plus keep a 20-cow beef herd.

Bryant and Debbie have been joined in the farming operation with their daughters and sons-in-law: Ben and Carmen Worley Thomas and Kelvin and Brooke Worley Norris.

“There's a special bond that develops in a multigenerational farm,” Bryant observes. “I was able to work side-by-side with my father, and Debbie and I worked together to build our own farming operation. Now I have daughters and sons-in-law who work along with us. It's also going to give our grandchildren a chance to grow up on the farm, and we hope we can instill a good work ethic in them as well.”

The hog units, built in 1993, are feeder-to-finish, with pigs coming in at 55 to 60 lb. and marketed at 240 to 250 lb.

From the start, the site was designed to have a minimal impact on the environment and on nearby neighbors. The operation was built on Debbie's family farm. Most of the timber was harvested from that farm, but the Worleys left the front portion to provide a visual buffer between the hog operation and its nearest neighbors. Pine trees were planted in the harvested areas as well.

The family also planted ornamental cypress trees near the entrance to the swine unit, adding beauty and buffering the operation from the nearby community volunteer fire department headquarters.

The exhaust air from the tunnel-ventilated buildings is directed to the back side of the finishing site, which is adjacent to a large timbered wetland area where there are no homes. That directs any dust and odors away from neighbors.

Nutrient management

With a wide range of crops, ranging from row crops to small grains to permanent pasture, the Worleys have a lot of flexibility in applying nutrients from their livestock and poultry operations.

“With the price of fertilizer rising, we have been trying to use our manure nutrients to replace purchased commercial fertilizer whenever we can,” Bryant says. “It's especially a good fit for the corn crop. We installed a center-pivot irrigation system in 2004, and it really helps us capture the value of our nutrients as we apply them to growing crops.” The pivot system features drop nozzles that help keep odors from drifting away from the field.

Manure samples are sent to a state laboratory for analysis, as required by the farm's nutrient management plan. A crop consultant soil samples the farm's fields every year, allowing the family to make better decisions as to where the turkey litter or swine effluent can be most effectively used. “Turkey litter, being a solid, can be hauled farther, while all of our swine effluent is piped,” Bryant points out. “It's all about the most efficient use of the nutrients.”

A storage facility provides an environmentally safe area to store turkey litter until it can be land-applied. A global positioning system allows precision application of the litter. Applying litter and effluent helps build the sandy loam soils that are typical for this area.

“We definitely see that it improves the tilth of the soil, and increases organic matter,” Bryant says. “We don't apply the effluent unless something is green and growing. We try to time it according to when the crops need it.”

Because nutrients can leach easily from these soils, the family applies a relatively small amount of effluent with each pass of the pivot.

Next Page: Wildlife boost

Wildlife boost

Bryant has been a supervisor for the local soil and water conservation district for a number of years and currently serves as the chairman. He's also a past chairman of the Area VI Soil and Water Conservation District. So it's no surprise that a number of conservation practices are used on the farm, including field borders, grassed waterways and filter strips. Soybeans and wheat are no-tilled, while corn and cotton are planted in a strip-till system. As a participant in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, the family also has put in 8 acres of wildlife plantings.

Native warm season grasses, both bluestem and switchgrass, have been planted next to drainage ditches to provide a natural filter to take out any nutrients or pesticides that may be trying to move laterally away from crop fields. “It has improved water quality going into the Neuse River and has also boosted wildlife populations,” Bryant says. “These filter strips make excellent quail and rabbit habitat.” The warm-season grasses are not mowed during the nesting season.

The Worleys also are sponsors of the local Quail Unlimited chapter, which often uses the farm as a place to demonstrate equipment that they have purchased for local farmers to use. The farm also takes advantage of the free seed that Quail Unlimited offers for wildlife food plots.

“Every farm has areas that are really not a good fit for row-crop production,” Bryant says. “But those areas can produce something for wildlife. We plant a mix of clovers, millet, wheat and sunflowers, and it has really helped the wildlife population.”

The Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) also has helped acquire technology to help manage resources. The Worleys are currently participating in an EQIP project where they replace nipple waterers with cup waterers in order to reduce the amount of water used in the barns. Each barn also is equipped with a water meter to track usage.

“It has dramatically cut down on the amount of pumping we've done,” Bryant says. “I don't mind pumping nutrients, but I don't want to pump excess water. Conserving water is important in eastern North Carolina because there are concerns about a drop in the aquifer in this region. Any way we can find to conserve water and improve water quality will be good for everyone.”

EQIP funds also are being used to help the Worleys install a rotary composter. “We've been using a rendering service,” he says, “But we want to eliminate visits from rendering trucks and also better utilize and recycle the nutrients from our mortalities.”

Smell the flowers

The bottom line isn't just about profit at the Worley operation. Spending time with grandchildren as they explore the farm is important to Bryant and Debbie. “We splurged last winter and bought an ATV with room for the five grandchildren to all get in at once,” Bryant says. “We check the cows, and of course we have to slow down and count the rabbits between pastures. There's nothing quite like the expression on your grandson's face when you come around a corner and see an eight-point buck standing in front of you.”

Environmental stewardship is about the future. “I remember hearing my father say, ‘We don't inherit the land from our fathers, we borrow it from our children,’” Bryant says. “I want to leave this farm in as good a shape as I got it.”

Debbie serves on a number of boards, trying to tell agriculture's story. She is involved with the county's Voluntary Agricultural District, implemented to make potential homeowners aware of the agricultural presence in the county. “It's a way to let people know we're in agriculture and proud of it,” Debbie says. “We're going the extra mile to make sure we are protecting the environment as well as feeding the world.”

But, the Worley family has been making the extra effort to conserve land and water for decades. Going the extra mile is nothing new. “Our ancestors would be disappointed if we didn't,” Bryant says.

A Message from National Hog Farmer

The Environmental Stewardship recognition program is co-sponsored by National Hog Farmer and Pork Checkoff. The program is for pork producers with all types and sizes of production systems who demonstrate a positive contribution to our natural environment.

A national selection committee of experts from various pork industry and natural resources disciplines selected this year's winners. Nominations were scored in eight key areas: general production, manure/nutrient management, soil and water conservation, air quality and odor control strategies, wildlife management, environmental management innovations and a short essay on the meaning of environmental stewardship.

National Hog Farmer is proud to partner with Phibro Animal Health, Land O'Lakes Purina Feed LLC and Pork Checkoff to deliver the positive environmental management stories contained in these pages. It is our hope that this recognition of the 2008 class of Environmental Stewards will serve to inspire the nation's pork producers as they work hard to be environmentally conscious citizens.