James River Experience As Told By Sandy Fisher

 

Rossie & Sandy Fisher with Annie at Brookview Farm in Manakin-Sabot, Virginia

The James River became personal when we came to manage Sabot Hill Farm in Goochland County, Virginia,  in June 1979. The first thing I saw was a washed out corn crop due to flooding in the lowgrounds from Stoney Pond down to the old Sabot Station. From then on, I decided we would try not to plow too much with the moldboard plow to not have so much erosion. We also put a drain tile to help eliminate big puddles. This helped, but was expensive. We continued to farm the Sabot Island which was two feet higher and the crops were good there.

Local lore on how often the river flooded varied depending on who you talked to. Joe Scales, the local soil and water expert, said about every two years. My partners, Freddie and Bill Reed pretty much agreed with him, so we planted accordingly. We were really interested in getting as much crop as possible off those rich beautiful lowgrounds. The yields on corn and beans were almost double our poorer upland soils. We couldn’t help but notice that there was a line of water along the road between Chastain and Brookview Farm. Chastain flooded more easily than Brookview. We later learned that Bosher’s Dam’s influence (downstream in Richmond, Virginia) had slowed farming for anything east of Brookview.

We bought Brookview in 1972. During the 1980s, we had an irrigation pump and reel and, with a permit from the DEQ, pumped out of the beautiful but unpredictable river. We noticed that in July and August when our corn crop needed the most water, the river was lowest so we had to lower the pump and disturb the bank.

Another thing that needed studying was to fine tune the incidence of flooding. It seemed the river was coming out its banks at least once a year. Some small floods, two-three feet, were not bad for corn, but would cover a soybean crop. We liked soybeans which are a good nitrogen fixer for corn. After a couple of years, we planted just corn and hay. This time, in 1992, I sent away for as much information from the U.S. Corps of Engineers. They had a good data bank going back to 1900. We used 18 inches as a flood mark which would be damaging to soybeans or wheat or corn when it is young. The study took almost a year.

The frequency of flood was once a year with much greater intensity since 1970. This date matches more infrastructure upstream. Also there was no flooding during July and August. This led us to think about things like green beans which are 70 days. We thought about how we could plant them with equipment we had, but not harvest and sell, so we decided not to plant them.

Around 1995, Bill Reed of Chastain, tired of flood losses, began to look at a wetland mitigation bank. At Brookview, we had lost 150acres of wheat crop so we were also candidates. The flood had come in May and came up just barely covering the young wheat plants. We didn’t know that if water gets over the stamen line in the plants, then they are infertile. We went down to combine what looked like a good wheat crop and all the seed heads were hollow. That’s when we decided to also put Brookview’s lowgrounds in a mitigation bank. For the banks to qualify, we had to plant thousands of trees.

Freddie Reed at Sabot Hill realized the river’s flooding potential at this time and he and Hunter McGuire got the easily flooded Sabot Hill and Brookview Farm lowgrounds into the James River Mitigation Landbank. It has been very successful and the 500 acres plus are a great wildlife area. We are happy we have created a good nature preserve of upland hardwoods.

By Alexander M. (Sandy) Fisher, Jr. 2010

Today, Brookview Farm raises and sells all-natural, grass-fed and finished beef. Customers can purchase whole or half steers and select the cuts. Visit their website for additional information at www.brookviewarm.com or email themarket@brookviewfarm.com

Brookview Farm is a member of the 35 Mile Drive Association and an original feature in the newspaper series “35 Mile Drive- A River Road Runs Through It” which appeared in the Goochland Courier/ Central Virginian.