Good stewards, good neighbors

By Hannah Thompson, OCJ staff writer

“It’s just the way we should do things,” Virgil Gasser said, simply and succinctly summing up his views on taking care of the environment. This viewpoint makes it clear why Gasser’s family received the 2012 Environmental Stewardship Award from the Ohio Dairy Producers Association and the Ohio Livestock Coalition.

Virgil Gasser manages a 600-cow dairy operation in Wayne County with the help of his four sons, who are all interested in remaining involved with the farm. Pictured, from the left, are Dave, Steve, Aaron, Nathan and Virgil.

Gasser started his own dairy operation in Wayne County in 1974 with a few cows, and by 1986 had updated his facilities to feature a double-six herringbone parlor and a free stall barn housing a herd of 100 milk cows.

“As the boys graduated from school and decided to be a part of the farm we added a few more cows or another barn, and just kept building,” Gasser said.

Today, Gasser and his sons Dave, Aaron, Steve and Nate milk 600 Holstein cattle. In addition to their dairy herd, the Gassers farm 1,200 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa using no-till and mulch-till methods.

The family has worked closely with the Wayne Soil and Water Conservation District, developing a nutrient management plan in 2008 that they continually reevaluate and improve. This plan includes biannual soil testing, the implementation of four grassed waterways and the planting of wheat as a cover crop.

The Gasser farm is also the first in Ohio to feature a circular manure storage tank with ramp. The tank is 160-foot in diameter and stores 1.8 million gallons of manure. The manure storage also serves as storage and collection for milk house waste and silage leachate from their bunker silos.

“The tank has worked very well for us. We use a lagoon and then from the lagoon the water goes over to the circular tank,” Gasser said. “We’re very pleased with that. It’s worked very well and it has been beneficial to be able to haul manure when the ground is most fit for it. We’re able to apply the manure how it needs to be applied to get the best use out of it.”

The Gassers focus on maximizing conservation and efficiency by recycling their resources and using their pre-cooler water to water their cattle. In addition, they have installed a pasteurization system that allows them to use waste milk to feed their calves. Their calf facility also features an automatic feeding system.

In the future, they intend to add a sand separator that would allow them to re-use the sand in their free stalls, expand their use of cover crops, and implement more waterways. The family works closely with their veterinarian, nutritionist and agronomist to ensure that their farm is as productive and profitable as possible. Gasser feels that using conservation practices is important to profitability as well as responsible land ownership.

“If you don’t use your manure properly, you’re losing a nutrient that is very valuable,” Gasser said. “We don’t buy a lot of commercial fertilizer anymore, we try to use the manure mostly for inputs.”

The Gasser family strives to maintain positive interactions with their neighbors, supplying “natural fertilizer” whenever asked. The Gasser’s farm is located directly across from Hawk’s Nest Golf Course, requiring a high level of consideration to foster a positive relationship.

“Whenever they have outings we try to be respectful,” Gasser said. “We do realize that holidays are going to be busy, so we try not to haul our front fields at that time, or even be hauling at all if that works out.”

Gasser’s commitment to promoting a positive image for the dairy industry is evident in his community involvement. In 2009, the family hosted the Wayne County Twilight Tour, welcoming more than 1,200 community members to the farm for a firsthand view at how the family cares for their cattle and their land. Gasser also serves on the board for both Smith’s Dairy and W.G. Dairy Supply and is a member of Farm Bureau.

“We’re all aware of the need for farmers to be better stewards of the land and try to be better neighbors for those around us so we can make a good impact on them about what dairy and crop farming really is,” Gasser said.

This is not the first time the family has been recognized for their stewardship efforts. In 2011, they received the Conservation Farm Award from the Wayne Soil and Water Conservation District.

Gasser is quick to recognize those who contributed to the development of their operation, including the Wayne Soil and Water Conservation District and Dan Steiner, who was key in the installation of the farm’s waterways and tile systems.

In the future, Gasser plans to continue sustainably expanding the farm operation to support all of his interested family members. Of course, all expansions and improvements will be conducted with careful attention to their impact on the environment.

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