Kresgeville farmer values conservation
After winning the Conservation Farmer of the Year award three times, Jeff Borger says he’s just one of many worthy of the prize.
“There were a number of farmers that would fit into this award - just as good as me if not better - because they do fabulous jobs around here,” Borger said. “Everybody takes care of their farms, because there aren’t many. You take pride in what you’re doing.”
Borger recently won the award for 2019, and before that in 2002 and 2012. He’s been farming for about 40 years.
The award is presented by the Monroe County Conservation District to spotlight noteworthy conservation practices.
On his farm, Borger came up with a solution to keep a natural spring clean that flows on his property and good for his cattle to drink, while conserving the water at the same time.
He said the spring ran across the pastures, so he contained it into a watering system. By containing the water, the cattle don’t step in it and make a muddy mess. Now, the cattle can drink it, and the rest of the water goes out through a pipe and down into a culvert.
“It keeps the water clean and fresh,” he said. “We try to conserve good clean water.”
Conservation is an important part of his farming practices. He also practices no till farming in order to keep more of the soil in place to prevent erosion during rainy periods. It takes special planters, but Borger thinks it’s worth it.
The planter cuts the soil open and closes it back up again, so there isn’t a field of open soil, he said. In the fall, he plants cover crops, like rye, oats and groundhog radishes.
“It’s a special radish that grows and holds the soil,” he said.
In the spring, the plant can be killed off with an herbicide, then he plants the crops he wants among the vegetation of the groundhog radishes and the oats that died off from freezing in the fall.
“You have a nice lush soil, which is loose,” he said. “And you have this cover that helps manage weeds, which in turn, means you don’t have to use as much herbicide.”
Borger said the two previous winters were terrible for erosion.
“The cold, rainy winters are the worst, because the ground is frozen and the water can’t go in there. It just washes off,” he said.
The best winter weather for preventing erosion is one that is cold and snowy. As the ground thaws in the spring, and the snow melts, it can absorb into the ground instead of washing it away.
Despite the ups and downs of farming and the expense of equipment, Borger said he wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.
“Oh, yeah. I wouldn’t give this up for nothing,” he said.
Still, he couldn’t make a living on just farming. For 30 years, he also worked for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. When he retired, people asked him when he was going to quit farming his 455 acres, too.
“I’m never going to retire. When I can’t do it, I can’t do it. But as long as I can, I will,” he said.
Owning a farm has been a dream of his since his days as a teenager working on one.
“I just love the fact of raising stuff, and getting up and seeing the sun come up in the morning,” he said. “At the end of the day, you get a job done, and at the end of the year, you see what you’ve accomplished. Farming is a rough life, but it’s really rewarding in a lot of different aspects.”
Borger said the secret to being a successful farmer is loving it.
“If it’s in your heart, it’s not work. It’s enjoyment,” he said. “Some people like to go fishing. I like to go plant corn or make hay.”
He also credits his success to the help of his friend and fellow farmer Neal Murphy. Every morning, he and his 83-year-old mentor talk on the phone about their plans for the day.
“He was instrumental in helping me throughout my life. He’s an amazing man,” Borger said. “Throughout my life, I’ve looked up to him, because there’s a guy that has felt the same way I do. He’s felt for the soils. He’s felt for the land. That’s important.”
Murphy has also been a recipient of the Farmer of the Year award.
“I’m sure he’s won this award numerous times, too, because he’s such a great farmer. And he’s well-known in the area. Everybody knows him,” Borger said.