Choosing to make conservation the bedrock of their farming operations, this year’s regional winners of the Conservation Legacy Award believe in preserving land, water and wildlife. At the same time they’re confident their stewardship efforts still reap economic returns. They thrive on making conservation a part of their daily farming decisions.
In its 10th year, the American Soybean Association’s (ASA) award applicants come from three regions – South, Midwest and Northeast. Final selections were judged by a panel of conservation professionals.
All three regional winners and spouses or guests will receive an expense-paid trip to Commodity Classic in Tampa, FL, March 3-5. Winners also receive plaques and the overall winner – announced at Commodity Classic – gets a yard sign in recognition of the award.
The Conservation Legacy Award program is sponsored by ASA, Monsanto and Corn & Soybean Digest.
“Soil and water conservation are such obvious practices for us that performing them are not things we consciously think about, it’s something we just do,” says Richard Jameson from Brownsville, TN.
Jameson and his wife Jane continue to farm on the same land their ancestors homesteaded in the early 1800s. They grow 1,250 acres of soybeans, 850 acres of cotton and 250 of corn. Soybeans have been their primary row crop for 30 years, and they’ve been full-scale no-till on all their acres since the mid-1980s. They’re proud to say that some of the first contour terraces in west Tennessee were constructed on their farm.
“Richard practices what he preaches,” says Gary Chandler, Natural Resources Conservation Service. “About 1,500 acres of his crop land are considered highly erodible with soil losses that would exceed 20 tons/acre/year without conservation treatment.”
The Jamesons have established over 40 miles of gradient terraces, over 35 acres of grassed waterways and several grade stabilization structures.
More than 100 acres of their operation are currently in the Conservation Reserve Program. And recently, on a farm where trees and small bushes were cleared to accommodate a center-pivot irrigation system, Jameson installed wildlife buffer strips around the perimeter.
“This farm has always had an abundance of wildlife, like quail and rabbits,” Jameson explains. “To mitigate the loss of habitat we planted native warm-season grasses and we’ll also plant wildlife food plots.”
Jameson is especially concerned about safety standards on his west Tennessee operation and keeps a ready supply of particle respirators for employees working in dusty conditions, plus various types of gloves and eye protection.
“Richard is usually the first producer in the area to adopt new practices to sustain the soil and environment around his farm land,” says Tracey Sullivan, ag instructor at Dyersburg State Community College. “He’s passionate about being a good steward.”
You might say Ed Ulch was forced into no-till farming because he simply didn’t have enough time to do it any other way. When he started farming at Solon, IA, he’d been working as a wholesale fertilizer salesman and was starting his own fertilizer business.
Today, he farms with his son Brian, and together they have 2,330 acres including custom work and a few head of cattle. About 800 acres are in no-till corn and 650 acres are no-till beans. Some of the land has been in no-till for 32 years. He also has 40 acres of rye as a cover crop.
Terracing is a big part of his conservation efforts. He’s constructed 31 terraces and plans to build more. “They work well for us but require some maintenance to work properly,” he says. “Some are farmed and others are grass-covered. All of our rolling ground is contour farmed.”
Ulch embraces integrated pest management (IPM) and uses GPS guidance. He automatically changes application rates on his sprayer depending on weed pressure. It saves him money, too. However, 80% of his crop chemicals are custom applied, avoiding potential spills.
The Ulches soil sample every two years and fertilize using modified variable-rate application. The bulk of nitrogen (N) is sidedressed when corn reaches about 10 in. tall. “We also add ammonium thio-sulfate as an N stabilizer and sulfur source.”
Since Ulch lives near a stream that drains into Lake Macbride, two miles from his home, he’s extra cautious about runoff and water quality. He chemically and biologically tests the stream to monitor runoff.
To alleviate stream-bank erosion, he’s graded most banks to a 2:1 slope, packed and then densely planted Carolina poplar trees in combination with grass seeding. It’s a new approach developed by the University of Iowa that’s been successful. However, there’s been no government assistance since it’s not fully proven yet. He also has 60-250-ft.-wide filter strips of native grasses and wildflowers bordering all streams on the operation.
When it comes to wildlife, you’ll find a haven at the Ulches. “In the early 1980s we started planting 500 trees for wildlife habitat every spring for five years,” he says. “We’ve reconstructed a pond on my farm and stocked it with fish. And we’ve built another large pond on my son’s farm.”
Every year Ulch has several food plots in areas where there is cover and access to water. “We see deer in our yard nearly every day. We also have fox, coyote, raccoon, skunk, hawks, owls, occasionally a mink or an otter and often bald eagles.”
Besides all the ways he’s committed to conservation on the farm, you’ll also see him driving a hybrid Toyota Prius – his third one.
Conservation enthusiast Henry Kallal started farming in 1976 and two years later was determined to give no-till a try on his Jerseyville, IL, operation. “I remember we took an old Case planter and filled the insecticide boxes with dirt so we’d have enough down pressure to no-till beans after wheat,” he recalls. “We tried no-till with corn, too, but we weren’t very happy. We even tried ridge-till with mixed results.”
Today, he no-tills all 800 acres of his soybeans and has moved to strip-tilling his 1,000 acres of corn.
A stickler for stewardship, Kallal uses IPM before applying insecticide or fungicide. “We do it for two reasons. First, we want to be good stewards of the land and, second, we can’t afford to apply chemicals needlessly.
“We apply burndown herbicides in the fall so we don’t have to in the spring,” he says. “We also apply anhydrous in the fall and use N-Serve to prevent losing the nitrogen. This protects the groundwater and our investment in fertilizer.”
He adds that triple-stack corn has reduced the amount of herbicide and insecticide he uses, too. He soil samples every four years and then uses GPS guidance to prevent fertilizer overlaps and skips.
When Kallal found it difficult to find anyone to put in short tile runs to drain wet spots on his smaller fields, he didn’t panic. He went out and bought his own tiling machine and now has installed several miles of tiling on his southwest Illinois farm.
Kallal even has the equipment – high lift, trackhoe and backhoe – to do a variety of conservation work himself. In fact, he built two dry dams this spring on his farm and two for his neighbors. “We also cleaned out three ponds that were silted in and dams that were destroyed. We then stocked those ponds with fish and now allow the neighbors and friends to go fishing.”
He’s also built 16 acres of waterways and about 18 acres of buffer strips around his farm to keep chemicals and soil out of ponds and surface water. He even has 11 acres of quail habitat planted around the edges of fields next to the filter strips.
“We work hard to be good stewards of the soil,” Kallal says. “We live here and drink the water so we better protect it and keep a healthy environment in which to live.”