Agricultural Environmental Management Award

2016 Winners - Wickham's Fruit Farm and Suffolk County Soil & Water Conservation District
Wickham's Fruit Farm is the First Long Island Farm to Win New York's Top Agricultural Environmental Award


Wickham's Fruit Farm, located in Cutchogue, Suffolk County, is the recipient of New York's top agricultural environmental award - the 2016 Agricultural Environmental Management (AEM) Award. Each year, the award honors the outstanding efforts of a New York State farm to protect and preserve soil and water quality. Wickham's Fruit Farm is the first fruit farm and the first farm on Long Island to receive this accolade.

"New York leads the nation in preserving our most precious natural resources, and building a cleaner, greener state. Our farmers are taking innovative steps every day to protect our land and water to share in that collective responsibility," said Governor Cuomo. "I congratulate Wickham's Fruit Farm on receiving the Agricultural Environmental Management Award for their outstanding commitment to environmental stewardship. They are a testament to the ongoing efforts of New York farms and the work of Soil and Water Districts across the State to protect our environment and ensure the economic sustainability of New York's agricultural industry."

Wickham's Fruit Farm was recognized, along with the Suffolk County Soil and Water Conservation District, during a ceremony at Empire Farm Days in Seneca Falls. The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Commissioner, the Empire State Potato Growers, and the American Agriculturist Magazine presented the award to ninth generation farm owner Tom Wickham for the family's long established history of implementing conservation best management practices that benefit the environment and protect the community.

Tom Wickham, Owner of Wickham's Fruit Farm, said, "The conservation practices we've put in place and that are so critically important would not be possible without the active engagement of a number of parties - from the NYS Departments of Agriculture and Markets and Environmental Conservation, Cornell University, Cornell Cooperative Extension, the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, and of course, the Suffolk County Soil and Water Conservation District. They have all provided great help and guidance in implementing projects that protect our land and the health of our community while improving our operation."

Wickham's Fruit Farm is a 200-acre, historic bicentennial farm that is located on some of the oldest, continually cultivated land in the country. One of the largest farms on the North Fork, the Wickham's grow fruit trees on 120 acres and various small fruits and vegetables on the remaining 80 acres.

The Wickham Farm was one of the first 50 farms to receive an AEM comprehensive farm plan in 1999. As early adopters of the principles of AEM, Wickham's Fruit Farm has implemented several practices that protect ground and surface water, as well as other natural resources, and that have also improved the farm's profitability.

The Wickham family has participated in many cost-share programs and implemented many conservation best management practices for the last two decades, including participation in the District's Fuel Tank Replacement Program, in which they have replaced three on-farm fuel tanks with state-of-the-art environmentally sound tanks to reduce the risk of fuel contamination into the soil. They have also installed a micro-irrigation system to better manage the amount and placement of water to their crops.

They farm has focused on the reduction of fertilizer usage by transitioning to a controlled release nitrogen fertilizer program that considers weather and soils before making application decisions. This has greatly reduced seepage of nitrogen into the Peconic Bay that surrounds the farm. The farm also uses integrated pest management practices including monitoring crops as a first defense against pests and using pheromone disruption methods decreasing the need for pesticide applications.

The Wickham's have also installed an innovative seasonal high tunnel that is being used to grow cherry trees. The seasonal high tunnel is a greenhouse type structure that does not require any additional heating, instead it focuses the sun's energy to produce ideal growing conditions, maximizing the growth of the plant. This use of a seasonal high tunnel is the first of its kind in the area.

Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, "The Wickham's have made good environmental practices a part of their daily life on the farm, and we congratulate them on their innovation and commitment to protect and conserve the quality of our soil and water. With support from the Suffolk County SWCD and other critical partners, the Wickham's have been able to implement progressive farming practices that will be a model for generations to come."

The farm has worked closely with the Suffolk County Soil and Water Conservation District, which provides technical assistance to advance agricultural environmental management practices within the county. The District uses the feedback to improve its own efforts for environmental management in agriculture.

Suffolk County Soil and Water Conservation District (SCSWCD) Technician, Sharon Frost said, "The SCSWCD is proud to be the recipient of the 2016 NYS AEM Award. We are also very proud of Tom Wickham and his accomplishments as he has participated in the AEM program since 1999. He has worked diligently towards becoming a superior land steward as we can see from him achieving this recognition."

The Suffolk County Soil and Water Conservation District has a very active agricultural environmental management program that has assisted over 278 farms since its inception. The District focuses on assisting farmers with programs that help protect Long Island's sole source aquifer, which provides drinking water to over 2.7 million people. They have successfully been administrating grant funding for programs such as fuel tank replacement, nutrient management planning, pesticide sprayer retrofits, and the installation of agrichemical handling facilities, among others. The AEM program has guided the District in assisting farmers in protecting the environment while meeting their economic goals.

Assistance to Wickham's Fruit Farm and other producers was provided through conservation planning, design and cost-share opportunities for conservation practices. Since 1996, the District has successfully secured over $1.7 million through the State Agricultural Nonpoint Source Abatement and Control grant program to assist 98 farms across the county implement sound environmental practices.

The annual Agricultural Environmental Management Award is jointly sponsored by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, American Agriculturalist Magazine and the Empire State Potato Growers. Award winners are chosen from nominees submitted by County Soil and Water Conservation Districts from around the state. The first AEM award was presented in 2002; prior to that, the award was known as the Agricultural Stewardship Award.

New York State's agricultural environmental management framework is a model for the nation as a voluntary, incentive-based approach to protect natural resources and meet the economic needs of the agricultural community.