About the Farm
Hanging Rock Hay and Grain is nearly all on custom farmed land, as he only owns 3 acres with his home, shop, barn, and a very small hay field and forested area. He has been farming on his own for 15 years, and initially got into agriculture by working at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon after graduating college. Not many kids growing up in Fairfax county and then attending American University in DC go into agriculture...but here he is! All the while, he also has a "day job" as an Ag and Urban Conservationist with Loudoun Soil and Water Conservation District. Combined between the hay and grain crops the operation consists of about 35-40 acres. On the hay side of the operation, he does only small squares, focused on smaller scale cattle, equine, sheep, and goat producers. He also bales straw from my grain operation. On the grain side of things, they focus on wheat and oats currently with both soft red and hard winter wheat varieties and hulless oats. Some of the grain is custom ground at Colvin Run Mill in Great Falls for sales in local stores, as well as selling grains to a couple of local breweries and a larger quantity to Murphy and Rude Malting in Charlottesville and Deep Roots Milling.
About the Practices
Hanging Rock Hay and Grain minimizes soil disturbance by implementing no till methods. Unfortunately Loudoun SWCD ended its No-Till rental program 20+ years ago, and our local Southern States ended its no till rental program 5+ years ago so they ended up having to purchase a (very) used drill from a retiring Lovettsville farmer. Working with the District, utilizing winter cover and no till was an easy sell! Being on rented land, it's a little harder to make long term investments and decisions. To energize with diversity, Hanging Rock Hay and Grain has focused on building organic matter in the soil and incorporating crop rotations. To build organic matter, he chooses to apply imported horse manure and poultry litter over conventional fertilizer as often as possible. Although this grain operation is young, his plan is to rotate fields through hay and grain production to keep cover and hopefully suppress disease. To keep the soil covered, growing winter wheat by default keeps winter cover on my fields, and I've also planted a rye winter cover on a field that had oats this past season in preparation for putting it back in grass this spring.
Why is protecting the soil important?
With my job at the District, a commitment to water quality for one. Second, seeing the research from NRCS and word of mouth from many fellow farmers, the need to really focus on soil health is critical to sustaining the ability to both care for our environment as well as maintain a reasonable level of production. In my system reducing costs associated with tillage and pesticides are also critical. On a more "deep" level, its just about being a steward of the land...in my case I don't "own" much of the land I farm, but in another sense, none of us really "own" the land we farm, we just care for it while we're around. I think the more folks we can kind of bring around to that way of thinking, the better our agricultural future might be.