Schmitt Family Farm
Finding the Value of Soil Health Management
For over 150 years, the Schmitt family has made farming a way of life on Long Island. While their family farm has moved eastward over the past four generations to its present location in Riverhead, New York, the Schmitts have always grown vegetables. They currently grow around 30 different crops in any given year on their 250-acre farm and sell their fresh vegetables at local farm stands, supermarkets and throughout the New York City area.
Growing so many crops means that some fields are double- or even triple-cropped every year. Such intense production can degrade soils when they are not given significant periods of rest. On Long Island, farmland is scarce and expensive; simply buying more land to let fields lay fallow isn’t a viable option for most. The Schmitt Farm dealt with degraded soil in the past—but change came when Phil decided to get serious about managing for soil health.
Until about 12 years ago, it was standard practice for Phil to moldboard plow his fields after the harvest of one crop, and before planting his next crop. But very year Phil observed issues due to soil compaction, including poor drainage, increased runoff and erosion, and poor crop health, which led him to make innovative changes on his farm.
In 2006, Phil began experimenting with different soil conservation and nutrient management practices. He now incorporates cover crops, compost, reduced tillage, controlled release nitrogen fertilizer, or CRNF, and integrated pest management strategies into his operation. As a result, his organic matter levels have risen from 0.5% to 3% since adopting a diversity of soil health practices.
Over the years, Phil has been willing to share his experiences and lessons learned with other farmers. Phil hosted the 2016 Long Island Soil Health Field Day, organized by AFT and local partners, and dug a soil pit on his farm to educate attendees on healthy soil structure.
In 2018, American Farmland Trust worked with Phil, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, and an agricultural economist to analyze the impact of his soil health practices on his bottom line. Over the course of one year, AFT found that Phil’s practices of reduced tillage and CRNF brought a total net return of $2,503, or $33.37 per acre, compared to the cost of conventional tillage and fertilization.