ST. AGATHA, Maine — For three generations the Labrie family has farmed more than 1,000 St. John Valley acres on which production is given the same priority as conservation.
Friday night the family’s land stewardship was recognized with the St. John Valley Soil and Water Conservation District Conservation Farm Award.
“We are honored and pleased to receive this award from the district,” Keith Labrie said after its presentation at the district’s annual banquet. “It’s really a multigenerational award.”
Today Labrie Farms is run by Keith Labrie and his brother Duane Labrie. Together the two men and their families farm 1,200 acres from Sinclair to Fort Kent.
The majority of the farm’s land is in potato production destined for McCain Foods. The potatoes are rotated with canola, oats and barley.
“The practices we have implemented over the years were learned from our father,” Keith Labrie said. “We have always been taught that our land is a valuable resource [and] if we want to make a livelihood and pass it on to the next generation, we need to maintain this resource through conservation practices.”
Those conservation practices include three-year crop rotation, minimizing water use for irrigation, increasing efficiencies, nutrient and pest management, sediment control structures to protect sensitive areas along Long Lake, grassed waterways, conservation tillage programs and deep tillage programs.
“The concept of conservation is something we learned from our father and grandfather,” Keith Labrie said.
The Labrie brothers have been part of the local soil and water conservation district since 1989 and currently serve with the Maine Potato Board.
Their father, Daniel Labrie, was also honored Friday night with the district’s service award for his two decades of involvement with the St. John Valley Soil and Water Conservation District.
The evening’s guest speaker, Linda Alverson, a nationally certified wildlife biologist, presented an overview of birds dependent upon the grasslands of northern Maine and offered some suggestions on how to maintain and improve that habitat in an agricultural area.
“For farmers, birds help keep insect populations down and help control rodent populations,” Alverson said. “For their part, farmers provide habitat along field edges and hedgerows.”
Alverson suggested farmers consider putting off mowing of hayfields until late July or early August to allow ground nesting birds to fledge, leave some patches unmowed to provide habitat, leave natural growth where possible and rotate grazing areas for large animals.
“The more you can make your land a mosaic, the better it is for birds and wildlife,” Alverson said. “Diversity is the best thing.”
Among the grassland bird species in northern Maine are the bob-o-link, the Savanna sparrow, the marsh hawk and the upland sandpiper.
“There are federal programs aimed at preserving grassland as habitat,” Alverson said.