Brown County Conservation District names winners

Submitted by Niki Tollefson

The Brown County Conservation District has named its conservation award winners.

Willie and Katie Geisendorf are the recipients of the 2017 Banker’s Award for Soil Conservation. Pictured are (L-R) Jenna, Eli, Ben, Willie, Katie and Aden.

Willie and Katie Geisendorf – Banker’s Award

Willie and Katie Geisendorf purchased this 80-acre tract in 2010. Since that time, they have added a 30-head cattle herd, a home and an outbuilding to their land. While the Geisendorfs are newer members of the community, they are no strangers to farm life. They both grew up on farms in Atchison County, before moving to Hiawatha to open a dental practice and raise a family.

The Geisendorf family is very active in the community. In addition to their family dental practice, Willie serves on the Hiawatha Community Hospital Board, and on the Brown County Developmental Services Board and is a member of the Knights of Columbus. Katie is the current Hiawatha Elementary PTO President, and actively involved in the Hiawatha Community Hospital Foundation Board. Their children are members of the Mount Zion Rustlers 4-H Club and are very active in a variety of youth sports.

The Geisendorfs’ operator, Lucas Heinen, cash rents the 62 tillable acres from Willie and Katie. Lucas has assisted them by making suggestions and helping to line up contractors.

Practices utilized, include installing tile outlet terraces, fixing and repairing outdated waterways, and planting cover crops for the purposes of adding nutrients to the soil and providing grazing opportunities for the cattle herd. Since the repairs and improvements have been made, they have had a noticeable decrease in the size of the ditches and the overall farm-ability has improved significantly.

Tom Kidwell, right, is the recipient of the 2017 Banker’s Award for Buffer Strips. He is pictured with his son Ashley, left.

Tom Kidwell – Banker’s Award

Thirty-five years in Ag banking, and still passionate about farming, is one way to describe Tom Kidwell. He was raised on a farm south of Horton, where his appreciation of farming and conservation began. Tom farmed full-time with his father and brother through the late 70s and early 80s when life took a turn in 1983. Tom continued to farm part-time, and began a part-time job at the bank, as well as starting college classes in the evenings with Ag Banking, as his intended major.

Tom purchased a tract of land in 2012, and since that time, he and his son Ashley have spent a lot of time and effort making improvements to the land, not only for production but also for wildlife habitat. When Tom acquired this farm, there were several conservation issues that needed to be addressed: tile terraces and outlets that needed some repair; waterways that needed some maintenance; and areas around the perimeter of the field that were not overly productive crop ground, became much needed buffer areas that were seeded to native grasses, forbes and alfalfa for wildlife.

Tom cash rents the farm ground to Jeff Compton, who has also been very helpful with fixing and repairing some of the terraces and outlets as well.

“As your conservation practices age, it is important to fix, repair, and maintain them to keep your soil healthy, and buffer strips are an important part of good soil health,” Tom said.

This philosophy is very important to Tom as he has worked for the betterment of land for not only his four children, but also for his six grandchildren.

Tom is currently the Community Bank President for both Hiawatha and Horton National Banks. Tom is very active in the community. He has served for about four years on the board of directors for the Horton Community Hospital (NEK Center for Health and Wellness) and also represents the Horton/Hiawatha National Bank as a supporter of the Brown County Quail Forever.

Dan and Jan Hermesch are recipients of the 2017 Banker’s Award for Grassland. Pictured are (L-R) Dan, Jan and their son Bob.

Dan and Jan Hermesch – Banker’s Award

Dan and Jan Hermesch moved to Hiawatha in 1981 after graduating from Kansas State University. Dan was employed by Citizen State Bank, and Jan was employed by Hiawatha Community Hospital. The Hermeschs have two children, Michelle and Bob. Michelle and her husband Michael Fangman live in Seneca, and Bob is working on completing his senior year in high school. Dan and Jan’s primary motivation for having the land and cattle, is the ability to work with, and alongside their children.

Dan said a quote he once saw has always resonated with him, “Don’t use your kids to raise your cattle, use your cattle to raise your kids.”

The Hermesch family are members of St Ann’s Catholic Church in Hiawatha. Dan currently serves on the Ag Partner’s Coop Board and the Citizen’s State Bank and Trust Company’s Board. Jan also is very active in our community. She currently serves on the Brown County Developmental Services Board, as well as the Hiawatha Community Hospital Foundation Board.

The Hermeschs’ farming operation began in 1982 with the purchase of two Angus cows and part of the family farm that Dan grew up on. That farm is located in Nemaha County. Three parcels of land were added between 1983 and 1989, totaling 270 acres in Brown County. A native grass pasture located in Wabaunsee County was added in 2010. Their operation is centered on a 130 head, spring-calving herd. The balance of the farm is made up of no-till crop ground and CRP acreage.

Typical of the area, most of the pastures are relatively small and spread out, making rotational grazing a challenge. Dan opts for a conservative set stocking rate that in most years yields grazeable forage through the end of the year, reducing the amount of hay fed.

The brome pastures are fertilized annually. Noxious weed and brush control is done primarily by spot herbicide application with a backpack sprayer. Custom tree shearing has been utilized as well to remove larger invasive brush.

Dan applauds the cost share programs that have enabled several improvements to be made to their operation. Pond clean out, spring developments and erosion and brush control have been utilized, and have had a positive impact on their farm. He definitely encourages other producers to stay abreast of EQIP and other conservation programs offered.

Kenneth and Janice Krug are the recipients of the 2017 Banker’s Award for Soil Conservation.

Kenneth and Janice Krug – Banker’s Award

Born and raised in the 50s and 60s on the western Kansas family farm just outside of Garden City instilled a deep respect for Soil Conservation in Ken Krug. While talking with Ken, he told stories of the horrible dust storms that continued to ravage the western lands.

“Street lights would come on at 3 in the afternoon on a windy day, because there was so much dirt blowing in the air,” Ken said.

A comment once made by a neighbor that has stuck with Ken for all these years was, “Son, there’s a farm up there blowing around if you had a place to put it.”

From that day forward, Ken understood the importance of caring for the land. Upon completing his teaching certificate at the ripe old age of 20, Ken moved to Horton in 1969 to begin his 32-year teaching career at Horton High School. In the years to come, he met and married his wife Janice, started a family, opened a gunsmithing shop and in 1982 bought his first farm.

Ken has about 430 farmable acres and approximately 400 acres of Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) with the remaining balance of his property in timber land. He has a deeply rooted belief in caring for the land he owns by the number of conservation practices he has implemented on his land.

Ken has installed many feet of tile terraces; built, and rebuilt many acres of waterways; installed several sediment basins, and planted many acres of CRP and pollinator plots, as well as buffer strips and deer browse patches for wildlife. These practices all work hand-in-hand to maintain good soil health and clean water.

When asked how he would encourage someone to invest in conservation practices, it was pretty clear, “Pay me now, or pay me later… Either way you will pay for it. With a little investment upfront, the land will pay you; ignore it, and your profits and your soil will be lost.”

Though retired from teaching, Ken stays plenty busy and involved in the community. He has been the commissioner of finance for the city of Horton for the last 14 years and was the Horton Fire Chief for 25 years and still owns and operates Jackleg Gun Shop in Horton.

Janice retired from the Horton Bureau of Indian Affairs after working there for 40 years. Janice volunteers with the Horton Latch-Key after-school program and helps at the Mission Village Senior Living Center. The Krugs have two children — a daughter, Kelly (Jeff) Chanay and grandson, Mason of Holton, and son Kristopher of Horton.

Matt Mueller is the recipient of the 2017 Banker’s Award for Soil Conservation. He is pictured with his fiance Meredith Knudson.

Matthew Mueller – Banker’s Award

Farming genes run four generations deep for Matt Mueller. He moved home and began farming full time after graduating from Kansas State University in 2010. With the help of a previous landlord, he was able to acquire a home, buildings, bins and some acreage to begin his operation.

“I wouldn’t be here without them or without the help of my family. I have gained so much knowledge about the industry and every day farming practices from my father, Mark and grandfather, Marvin Mueller as well as the rest of my family. I have also been blessed with the opportunity to take on some rented ground, as well as purchase a few acres,” Matt said.

He co-owns/operates Mueller Farms and Diamond M Cattle Company with his family northeast of Hiawatha. Matt recently became engaged to Meredith Knudson of rural Willis, and they plan to continue living in and farming in Brown County.

In order to get the most from his investment, Matt believes in following good soil stewardship practices. He uses soil testing to ensure the overall health of the land, as well as installing and maintaining tile outlet terraces for proper drainage. The use of no-till and filter strips are also important components to a healthy farm philosophy.

Matt is pleased to say that he is a life-long member of the Bethany United Church of Christ, where he has served on the Consistory board. He is also a member of the Hiawatha Country Club and has served on the Men’s League board. Matt is also a life-time member of the Hiawatha FFA chapter as well as many cattle breed organizations and their activities. He is also actively involved with the Better Beef Day Board in Horton and proud to say that it is one of the longest running spring beef shows in the nation.

Troy Holthaus is the recipient of the 2017 Banker’s Award for Soil Conservation. He is pictured with his niece Mya.

Troy Holthaus – Banker’s Award

To quote Wendell Berry, “Why do farmers farm? LOVE. They must do it for love. They love to live where they work and to work where they live.”

Growing up on the family farm, and working hard tends to leave an indelible mark on one’s soul. Jim and Judy Holthaus have instilled this value in their son, Troy Holthaus. Troy bought his first farm in 1995 when he was only 19, and although it was very scary at the time, it was the best thing he ever did.

He has been working cattle and doing field work for about as long as he can remember and thanks his mom and dad for allowing him the opportunity to learn from them. Through the years, Troy has witnessed the many rewards of farming and developed a passion for the land.

Troy believes in the use of tile outlet terraces and no-till farming practices to minimize the effects of run-off and erosion. When looking to make conservation improvements, Troy suggests checking with your local Conservation District and Natural Resources Conservation Service for the availability of cost share funds and technical assistance.

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