Local businesses win conservation awards | Local News | latrobebulletinnews.com

2022-09-24 11:20:49 By : Mr. Mervyn Cheung

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2022 J. Roy Houston Conservation Partnership Award: Ramsey Excavating LLC, represented by family members Bob, Lori, Bobby and April.

2022 Farmer of the Year Award: The Lash family farm, represented by Craig and Eleanor Lash.

2022 J. Roy Houston Conservation Partnership Award: Ramsey Excavating LLC, represented by family members Bob, Lori, Bobby and April.

2022 Farmer of the Year Award: The Lash family farm, represented by Craig and Eleanor Lash.

Ramsey Excavating LLC of Ligonier and the Lash family farm of West Newton have been selected as the winners of the 2022 Westmoreland Conservation District awards. The Lash family is the Conservation Farmer of the Year and Ramsey Excavating is the J. Roy Houston Conservation Partner. The Houston award is sponsored by Peoples Natural Gas.

Thirteen years ago, when another contractor was unavailable to take on a conservation project on Mill Creek in Ligonier, Ramsey Excavating stepped in, and so began a district partnership that now has put more than a dozen conservation projects on the ground throughout Westmoreland County.

That first conservation work used log vane deflectors to stabilize streambanks in the exceptional quality waterway that supplies drinking water for some residents in Ligonier Township. Ramsey Excavating provided the equipment and operators who installed the logs and large rock, and volunteers provided the hand labor.

In the years since, the Ligonier-based company has gone on to complete a portfolio of conservation projects throughout Westmoreland County – building retention ponds at the Westmoreland Fairgrounds, installing fiber-reinforced sections of conveyer belt to divert water from dirt and gravel roads, removing a concrete channel along Sherrick Run in Mount Pleasant Township and replacing it with rock veins, lining the banks of Little Pucketa Creek near Valley High School with rip rap, installing a squash pipe (a pipe that is the same width as the stream) under Sugar Run Road in St. Clair Township, and regrading the Loyalhanna Creek’s streambanks near the Latrobe Transfer Station.

Currently, the company is partnering with the Westmoreland Conservation District on a project to regrade and stabilize the banks of a stream in Irwin that were eroding and threatening a nearby walking trail.

“If we haven’t worked with a particular conservation practice before, we study up on it and talk about the installation with the conservation district people before the project begins,” company owner Bobby Ramsey said.

In fact, Bobby’s willingness and ability to communicate is a key reason the company has been such an outstanding conservation partner. He knows that “what works on paper doesn’t always work in the field,” so he keeps in touch at every step in the job, discussing how it’s going and where modifications might need to be made. “He’s always willing to work together to figure out how to get the best result, to make sure all of us are on the same page, and that everyone is satisfied with the work,” said Chelsea Walker, watershed program manager for the Westmoreland Conservation District.

Ramsey Excavating also has put its conservation knowledge to work in other jobs, including installing swales and channels in residential developments, and conveyer-belt diversions in homes with driveway washout problems. “Sometimes, with driveways, minor things can be done at a reasonable price, and they make all the difference,” Bobby said. Washouts of gravel driveways and unpaved lanes not only create a problem for the homeowner, but can contribute to water pollution in nearby streams.

The 20-year-old excavating company also has partnered with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy on conservation projects in Westmoreland and Allegheny counties.

Bobby Ramsey started and owns the company, but the whole family pitches in to make it run. His sister April handles the office and bookkeeping, mom Lori handles dispatch and dad Bob occasionally drives truck and supports in a variety of ways. Eleven-year-old Austin and 9-year-old Sofia also lend a hand. The company employs six full-time and two part-time workers.

The Lash family farm, an exceptionally tidy 109 acres near West Newton, is currently home to four generations of a family that has made their living and their homes on this property since 1796.

The family farm currently is being managed by Craig and Eleanor Lash, along with sons Craig Jr. and Scott, and daughter Rebecca and their families. Craig Sr.’s parents, Lowell and Sally, who ran the farm until they retired in 1997, still live on the property, which has been in the family for more than 225 years.

The conservation-minded operation uses a blend of practices to prevent erosion and manage water runoff. In the fields, reduced tillage practices limit the loss of the farm’s prime agricultural soil, and planting the hay and corn fields in line with the land’s contour slows the flow of water.

Twelve years ago, the family also installed a conservation practice that diverted excess water and turned a wet area of the farm into a useable hay field. The 930-foot grass waterway “works perfectly,” Craig says, in keeping conditions in the field right for growing alfalfa.

The Lashes also employ the conservation practice of rotational grazing, which limits how much area in a pasture the animals have access to at any given time. This gives the other areas of the pasture time to “rest” and regrow forage. The farm’s pastures are divided into five paddocks, where their former dairy herd and now their current herd of 20 “foster cows” graze.

Fostering cows became a practice on the Lash family farm in 2019, when, after eight generations of dairy farming, the family made the hard decision to sell their milking cows. “We just couldn’t grow big enough to make it work,” Craig said, citing the ongoing surplus in milk supply and the depressed price.

These days, the Lashes are putting their dairy know-how to work by taking in calves for another Westmoreland County dairy farm, which is scaling up its operation as a way to profitability. Eleanor Lash bottle feeds the newborns until they are old enough to eat on their own. In about two years when they reach maturity, the cows are returned to their original farm.

The arrangement benefits the productivity of both farms. The Lashes receive income – a stipend per animal per day – and the other farmer saves on the cost of raising the animals, which for him would include the expense of building a new barn to raise the heifers. The Lashes use their existing prescribed grazing and manure management plans to manage the foster herd.

The Lashes also are participating in a conservation program to determine the nutritional value of the alfalfa/hay they grow to feed to the cows. After each cutting, a sample is sent to a lab, which tests it for such things as fiber, nitrogen/protein levels, mineral content, and relative feed value. Having this information helps the Lashes get a better idea of how much forage the animals will consume and exactly how much supplemental protein the cows may need, all of which improves milk production.

The Lash family farm is a recognized by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture as a Bicentennial Farm and is preserved in perpetuity through the Westmoreland County Agricultural Land Preservation Program.

Craig Sr. has been president of the Westmoreland Fair board for almost 25 years, a role he enjoys because it gives him “the opportunity to showcase farm products and educate people about where their food comes from.” He also has served on numerous other boards, including the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and the Holstein Association.

The Westmoreland Conservation District was established in 1949, when local farmers, seeking help to conserve their soil and water resources, approached the County Commissioners. As the county has grown and changed in the 73 years since then, the District has responded with new programs to help protect the quality of the county’s natural wealth – its soils, forests, streams, and open space – as well as its valuable, productive farmland. In addition to its science-based efforts, the District serves as a clearinghouse for conservation information. The District is located in a restored 1880s-era barn at 218 Donohoe Road, Greensburg. It maintains a website at westmorelandconservation.org.

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