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American Forage and Grassland Council tours Kenwood Farm

FG Editor Lynn Jaynes Published on 01 July 2013
Monk, Carolyn and Chip Sanford, Kenwood Farm

Philosophy is common sense with big words.”
—James Madison

James Madison was said to have been a humble, soft-spoken man, despite becoming the fourth president.

When colleagues referred to him as the Father of the Constitution, he replied:

“This was not, like the fabled Goddess of Wisdom, the offspring of a single brain. It ought to be regarded as the work of many heads and many hands.”

Just over the hill from founding father James Madison’s Montpelier plantation in Virginia sits Kenwood Farm, a tour stop on the American Forage and Grassland Council 2013 spring tour.

Kenwood Farm
Owner Wallace W. “Monk” Sanford seems as modest as Madison was and readily acknowledges the contributions of his wife of 45 years, Carolyn, and son Chip, as well as several long-time and lifetime employees.

“We would not be in the farm and dairy business without really good help. We’re really blessed to have them and couldn’t do it without them.”

Carolyn agrees that the operation is the effort of many heads and hands. “Some of what we know is instinctual, but we also depend on a lot of experts to advise us,” she says.

Consultants such as Charlie Thornton with Brookside Laboratories (Tellus Consulting), Virginia Cooperative Extension agents and Farm Bureau consultants regularly advise and help Sanford monitor soil quality, feed nutrition and crop management.

The dairy herd was started by Sanford’s grandmother in 1918 with registered Jersey cows. Sanford started farming full time in 1965 after graduating from high school.

He became a partner with his parents in the farm in 1975. Today, Sanford milks 240 Holstein cows, producing five million pounds of milk per year.

He raises 110 acres of grain corn, 240 acres of corn for silage, 220 acres of hay and 150 acres of wheat and clover. Sanford also maintains roughly 220 head of Angus beef cows with calves.

One of the issues Kenwood Farm faces is soil compaction. Sanford says, “This is good red ground, but you get all this wet, and it’s gonna pack.”

To combat the compaction, all the manure from the dairy is spread on the crop fields using spreaders with balloon tires.

Use of a deep ripper with shanks 30 inches apart to aerate the soil helps as well. Every third year, Sanford runs a John Deere subsoil with ¾-inch-wide shanks with a roller attached to the back across the fields, and uses no-till seeding on top of that.

Sanford has been using liquid manure since the middle-to-late ’70s, cutting fertilizer and lime use by 50 to 75 percent, aerating the soil before the manure application.

He states at times they have rented more ground, but it takes several years to get the new fields as productive as the fields they have been working with for years.

On average, he applies 5,000 gallons liquid manure per acre in the fall before planting wheat and clover, then another 5,000 gallons liquid manure after spring chopping and before the corn is planted.

While this system works well now, Sanford says it didn’t happen overnight: “Just because you spread liquid cow manure doesn’t mean you’ll cut fertilizer costs tomorrow. It takes some time. You have to have a balanced approach.”

The Sanfords enjoy the diversity of their operation. Carolyn says, “We love this farm and take great pride in it. We try to be good stewards of the land. We are grateful to still be a functioning, small, family farm.”  FG

TOP: Monk, Carolyn and Chip Sanford manage the fertile soils of Kenwood Farm.

BOTTOM: Kenwood Farm’s red clay soils are enriched with liquid manure from the 240-cow dairy. Photos by Lynn Jaynes.