Litchfield, New Hampshire
Hillsborough County Conservation District
Steve Normanton manages 115 acres of leased farmland where he grows multiple species of grass and forage for grazing, in addition to vegetables in and around Litchfield, New Hampshire. Using proven and experimental soil conservation practices, Normanton produces five acres of organic vegetables, 50 beef cows, 60 to 100 hogs, 18,000 broiler chickens, and eggs from 600 layers annually. His products are marketed directly to consumers or through local restaurants and shops.
His main farm comprises about 35 acres on the banks of the Merrimack River, a main stem waterway that flows through much of south central New Hampshire. The remaining 85 acres are scattered parcels not connected to the main farm.
Normanton says his main soil conservation tools are high density rotational grazing, native warm season grasses, and riparian buffers. “All these practices have to do with preserving water quality and building healthy soils,” he told NACD. The soils on his main farm are excessively well drained, and subject to compaction. Many of the remote parcels have also been compacted from mechanical harvesting of forage in the past.
To combat compaction in the pastures, Normanton uses rotational grazing systems that incorporate a short dwell time and long rest times. These systems also use mechanical methods, such as surface aeration and key line plowing, to encourage infiltration of water and organic matter. Any pasture renovation is accomplished with no-till seeding implements, Normanton said.
In the vegetable operation, cover crops are seeded on beds between crops and during dormant seasons. Green manures are incorporated using a spader, which causes less disruption in the soil structure than typical methods, like moldboard plowing or rototilling.
The main challenges his farm faces are weather-related, Normanton said. “Climate change is manifesting itself with longer dry periods followed by heavier downpours. Without healthy soils, this weather pattern presents an even greater challenge as excessive rains can run off before benefitting the pasture.”
“Everything we do is an attempt to build resilience,” Normanton continued. “If we can build organic matter in the soil, water won’t drain away as fast. And if we can alleviate compaction, more will soak in. With hotter summers, cool season grasses might not be the best choices. It’s really all about adaptive management.”