Heckman Orchards in Effort has been named as Conservation Farmer of the Year by the Monroe County Conservation District.

“It is often the farmers that have an impact on conservation efforts” said Adam Schellhammer, director of the MCCD.

“These are the guys who have boots on the ground and work closest with the resources. Heckman’s is doing great work to protect the environment and the natural resources of Monroe County.”

The MCCD and area farmers work closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. The nomination for Heckman’s came from both.

“In working with Heckman Orchards in recent years, the goal of both the landowner and our agency was to protect water quality and prevent soil erosion,” said Jennifer Matthews, the Supervisory District Conservationist for NRCS.

Matt Giambra, a resource conservation specialist with MCCD, has worked with farms mainly in the West End of Monroe County for two and half years. Giambra explained some of the conservation practices implemented by Heckman’s.

“Heckman Orchards was chosen because they are very active in seeking funding and direction from NRCS,” Giambra said. “They are consistently looking for the best ways to improve their land.”

“In recent years the Heckmans have installed high-tunnels, used cover crops, crop rotations and conservation tillage, just to list a few of the ‘best farming practices.’ Most recently they have constructed a rock-lined waterway which prevents erosion and filters the water that runs along it.”

Family business

Heckman Orchards has been around since 1962, when Lawrence and Marlene Heckman purchased the modest apple orchard. Today their sons Mark and Lynn Heckman farm close to 200 acres, some owned and some leased.

There are apple, pear and peach trees as well as sweet corn, squash, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant and many other vegetables and fruits.

“We do this to make sure that the land stays highly productive,” said Mark Heckman. “We want to preserve this land for future generations and by protecting the land and the soil, we are protecting the waterways.”

The Heckman brothers are very proud of their farming operation and added a few more practices to the list including a state-of-the-art agrichemical storage facility specially designed to keep stored chemicals from leeching into the soil and groundwater. The floor is designed to capture and collect any spilled chemicals.

The Heckmans have also upgraded most of their irrigation at the main farm and utilize an underground drip system that keeps the water in the soil.

Soil erosion is a twofold problem for farms like Heckman Orchards. The land along Route 115 is sloped, and without erosion mitigation the farm’s topsoil would be washing away into the watershed.

The Heckmans use crop stripping, a practice where crops are planted in rows about 150 feet wide, then a space is left and another strip of crops is planted alongside. When on a slope the crops may alternate, such as 150 feet of sweet corn followed by 150 of squash. The different densities of the crops helps to prevent erosion.

Terracing is also used to slow water as it flows off the slope. The slower the water, the less likely it is to strip valuable top soil from the land.

The stone-lined waterway is another way in which the farm is preventing soil erosion. The waterway is designed to collect the water coming down the slope, filter it naturally by allowing it to run over and through the rocks and direct the clean rainwater into the watershed.

“By implementing these practices, the landowner is able to keep their topsoil in place improving crop production and by preventing erosion we are keeping the soil that would accumulate in the streams and lakes of the watershed, thus improving water quality,” Matthews said.

Heckman Orchards sells its produce at a farm market on Route 115 and commercially. The ShopRite in Brodheadsville is a customer. The farm also has a “pick-your-own” event in the fall.

The third generation is already hard at work on the farm, and according the Mark’s wife, Gail Heckman, the fourth generation is a bit young but already begging to come to work.