2022 Cooperator of the Year
As a fourth-generation farmer, Jay Hastings grew up learning the importance of drainage and responsible land management. As the owner of Westwind Farms, Inc., he implements conservation practices on nearly 1,000 acres in western Sussex County, all within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Hastings also manages the cropland, irrigation, fertilizer and spraying applications associated with the nearly 50-year-old family butcher shop. He has planted cover crops for many years and two years ago he began participating in the Sussex Conservation Districts (SCD) cover crop program. Ever conscientious of his impact to the environment and those around him, Hastings practices conservation tillage which minimizes soil disturbance, improving soil health and productivity.
His goal is to leave the ground better than when he started and when he cleared woodland to put into production he wanted to give back to the land. In 2020, SCD helped Hastings transform marginal land into a wildlife habitat with three shallow ponds. The improvements provide a buffer between wildlife and crops but also collect excess water allowing for more productive cropland and improved water quality.
As manager of the Bacon and Kenney tax ditch, he is working diligently to restore drainage while implementing conservation practices such as vegetative buffers which capture sediment and filter nutrients while providing a barrier between farmland and adjacent homes.
Wildlife Habitat and Pond Construction
On the northern side of his Providence Road farm, Jay Hastings cleared woodland to put into production while the southern corner had long-standing issues; the land was marginal, poorly drained and plagued by ponding, which was not adding value to his operation.
“I'd farmed this land since I was 18 or 20, back when it was owned by Ed and Allen Ralph. When I finally got to purchase it, I knew what parts of the land were productive and which were not. My opinion was to drain one end and provide a way for the water runoff, but still stay here on the farm and not go somewhere else. I didn’t want it to impact anyone else,” explained Hastings.
Although it took several years to come to fruition; actual construction was completed in just a few weeks. SCD provided technical and financial assistance to achieve his goals while SCDs equipment program handled the heavy lifting. Equipment operators created three shallow ponds adding contours and elevations to enhance the topography of the otherwise flat land. Native plants were added while warm- and cool-season grasses were planted with a no-till drill. The native plants, grasses and ponds improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed by capturing nonpoint source pollution such as sediment and nutrient runoff.
“They did it all, I mean they came in here with two dozers and an excavator and with three guys that are artists in my opinion, grade stakes, surveyors, and created all this. I take no credit for it other than owning the property and wanting it done of course,” Hastings beamed.
The ponds and grasses provide habitat for wildlife where Hastings plans to watch from a distance, “the one thing I hope this does is give me a little bit of a barrier between my crop the deer and the damage.”
“If I took something away on one side, I kind of wanted to give something back,” Hastings explained. “If I can leave it better than it was when I started, that’s my goal,” he continued.
“It adds value to this whole farm, I’m glad it came together,” said Hastings.
Funding for the project was provided by Sussex Conservation District, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Chesapeake Bay Implementation Grant (CBIG) Program.
The Clean Water Act authorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to award CBIG funding to state or signatory jurisdictions of the Chesapeake Bay Agreement.
- Jay Hastings poses in front of his newly created wildlife habitat that includes three shallow ponds.
- Eastern view of ponding prior to construction
- Westward view of ponding prior to construction
- Eastern aerial view of the project site prior to construction.
- Southern aerial view of the project site prior to construction.
- Site clearing begins by removing overgrown brush with an excavator-mounted bush hog.
- Topsoil removed from each pond was replaced after excavating.
- Excavating the third and deepest pond. The ponds cover approximately one acre.
- Eastward aerial view of completed site work, ponds two and three are holding water.
- Westward aerial view of completed site work, ponds three and two are in the foreground holding water.
Delmarva Farmer • April 23, 2021 • Hastings’ pond project holds water