A Big Win-Win for Farmers and Nature on the Duck River by Paul Kingsbury

What can be done when a riverside dairy farm desperately needs to upgrade its failing waste treatment facilities—or risk being put out of business? Call The Nature Conservancy, of course! At the Allen Dairy, the result was a win-win for the farm and for Tennessee’s Duck River.

The Allen Dairy, run by brothers Cannon and John Daniel Allen, is a third-generation farm located in Marshall County on 1,200 acres alongside the biologically rich Duck River. There the brothers have about 320 milk cows, mostly Holsteins. Cows produce a lot of manure, and the farm’s three waste lagoons were failing and in danger of fouling the Duck River, regarded by scientists as among the richest in varieties of aquatic life in North America.

Fortunately, The Nature Conservancy, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service were able to join forces and provide a solution. Led by the Conservancy, these organizations funded a much larger, improved waste treatment facility for the farm. In return, the Allen brothers agreed to a conservation easement on their riverbank land.

A conservation easement is a voluntary, legally binding agreement that limits certain land uses or prevents development from taking place on a piece of property now and in the future, while protecting the property’s ecological value. In the case of the Allen Dairy, the family will continue to own and farm their land as they always have, and can even sell it if they choose. However, a five and a half mile, 300-foot-wide riverside buffer will forever be off-limits to development, and will be monitored by the Conservancy.

The conservation easement now protects “one of the finest stretches of mussel habitat on the river,” says Leslie Colley, Duck River Program Manager for the Conservancy. This part of the river includes water intake for the city of Lewisburg. “So it’s important for people in the area as well,” she says.

“We want to help keep the Duck River clean,” John Daniel Allen told the Marshall County Tribune. “We want to conserve nature and be environmentally friendly.”

“We leveraged a great deal of resources to accomplish this for the Allens and for the Duck River,” says Colley. “I honestly don’t think anyone else could have spearheaded this.”

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