Soil Conservation: NCCD announces conservation winners
Submitted by Dana Schmelzle, Nemaha County Conservation District
The Nemaha County Conservation District has announced winners of conservation awards, ahead of the District’s annual meeting.
Wildlife Award: Josh Meyer family
As destructive as a tornado can be, it’s hard to imagine that anything good could come out of one. For Josh Meyer and his family, a 2014 tornado certainly took a toll, but it also brought some unexpected changes to the landscape and opportunities to improve wildlife habitat.
On June 3, 2014, an EF-3 tornado tracked across Meyer’s family’s farm, damaging fences, implement buildings, and the trees of their timber stand. To clean up the aftermath of brush and debris, a burn was implemented in 2015. The disturbance of the fire left in its wake a thick spread of wildflowers in the brome pasture. Meyer couldn’t believe that after all that time there were still the native plants present in the brome field, just waiting for an opportunity to flourish.
The wildflowers inspired Josh to further improve wildlife habitat on the family farm by targeting quail habitat and planting a nine acre pollinator plot. Pollinator plots consist of a diverse mix of forbs, or wildflowers, that collectively bloom throughout the growing season. This type of planting is not only beneficial to pollinators, but also for young quail chicks who rely on the flower-attracted insects for a food source in the summer. The benefits continue through the winter with the vast seed supply for quail food and tall weedy plants for winter cover.
Implementing the practice required killing the cool season, brome pasture with glyphosphate. This required two sprayings, one in the fall the other in the spring. After the grass was sufficiently killed, the area was drilled with a mix of 18 varieties of native wildflowers and eight native grass varieties. The project was planted in spring 2015. Within the first year of planting, the plot was a successful stand with 13 varieties established!
Even with the success of the pollinator plot, Meyer’s work wasn’t complete. The 2014 tornado left Meyer and his family with a lot of work to do in the timberstand of oaks, walnuts and hickories. While the oaks were damaged with broken limbs, many of the walnuts were completely uprooted. Josh has worked this winter to clean up the brush in his timber as well as remove the locust, cedar and hedge trees. Five years after the destruction from the tornado, there is still plenty of work to improve the health of the timber, but Meyer is making tremendous progress in improving the value of his timber.
Even with the ups and downs, Meyer has enjoyed learning from the land and is continuing his learning experience by experimenting with other conservation practices. One of those practices is rotational grazing that he has been implementing in his brome pasture. By grazing early in the season, Meyer has seen a comeback of native grasses, thus increasing the diversity of not only his grazing operation, but the wildlife habitat as well. This summer after wheat harvest, Meyer plans to increase his knowledge through experimentation of cover crops.
Kansas Banker’s Association Soil Conservation Award: Matt and Ashlea Kramer
Matt Kramer is a bit of a numbers man. It served him well as a graduate from the K-State Ag Economics Department. It serves him well in his position as a broker with an investment firm. Numbers are even a part of his conservation work. That attention to details has resulted in a 2018 Kansas Banker’s Association Soil Conservation Award for Matt and his wife, Ashlea.
An understanding of the value of topsoil kick-started Kramer’s soil conservation efforts in 2007 when he implemented no-till practices as he got started farming. Not all of his soils are all that deep, and many lie on rolling Nemaha and Jackson County land. Efforts were quickly implemented to address potential erosion issues.
Kramer’s soil conservation efforts have come with a steep learning curve. Because he does most of the conservation work with just himself and a hired man, he’s had to learn a lot about what makes a good soil conservation system.
He’s faced some challenges, but they have resulted in some great collaboration with NRCS Technician Bob Fisher. With Fisher’s technical assistance, Kramer was able to redesign some of his conservation work to allow them to handle heavier runoff events.
The fruits of their partnership resulted not only in bigger pipe and bigger terraces to handle runoff, but in more efficient layouts as well. Systems are designed not only with conservation in mind, but an eye to maximizing farming efficiency via the use of tile terrace systems.
Matt also understands the value of work equity. Much of the work is done with their own equipment, using their own labor and expertise, while leaning on other trusted contractors for advice and to assist with work when needed. That labor equity has yielded some nice returns as they continue to work to preserve a valuable topsoil resource. It also allows them to take the next step toward efficiency as they evaluate fertility and other management practices on the farm.
Matt and his wife Ashlea are parents to two boys at their home near Goff. He serves as a board member on the Nemaha/Brown Joint Watershed District. They are members of the St. James Parish in Wetmore.
Don’t cut corners and listen to the guys who know what they are talking about. Those guys include Bob Fisher and others who have offered assistance with their efforts. The result is some great conservation work.
Kansas Banker’s Association Soil Conservation Award: Roger Macke family
It’s no surprise that Roger Macke’s conservation efforts are somewhat diverse. You wouldn’t expect anything less from a diversified farming operation that spans multiple counties. The result is a 2018 Kansas Banker’s Association Soil Conservation Award for Macke and his family.
Macke’s farms are spread across Nemaha, Jackson and Pottawatomie counties, offering not only diverse soil types, but weather conditions as well. It’s a benefit in his corn/soybean rotation that allows him to spread weather risk across a larger area.
Their operation contains multiple livestock components as well, with a feedlot being complemented by a cowherd managed in cooperation with his sons consisting of both Black Angus and Red Angus genetics.
Conservation efforts on the farm began with the first purchase in 1993. Over the years, many terraces and waterways have been replaced. A switch over to tile outlet terraces on many farms has been a focus as well.
The most recent work consisted of repairs to a silting in waterway full of unwanted brush that wouldn’t adequately handle runoff flows. An EQIP application spearheaded a project in the fall of 2016 to clean up the waterway to improve its performance. Work was completed by December, allowing Macke to get rye seeded and established prior to winter setting in. Sons and farming partners, David and Jacob, seeded brome the following spring, and the waterway is just about ready to have the berms removed.
In addition to the EQIP contract, as well as work he’s done on his own repairing terraces and waterways, Macke also uses cover crops to hold soil and provide some livestock grazing along the way. No-till is used whenever possible, and grid sampling is used to better manage nutrient loads.
And that’s just the conservation work associated with the crop production enterprise! Feedlot waste flows to a lagoon and a grass filter has been planted below the receiving pen to provide further filtration. Native pastures are burned regularly to reduce undesirable weeds and brush.
Macke and wife Karen have five children: Sarah, David, Jenna, Laura and Jacob. They are active members of the Sacred Heart Parish in Baileyville, serving on the parish council and altar society. They also volunteer time to the Baileyville Benefit committee, a non-profit organization raising money to help those in financial need.
Doing everything he can to keep precious top soil from getting thinner, Macke’s efforts are done to preserve the present and plan ahead for future generations.
Buffer Award: Merle Bonjour
Merle Bonjour doesn’t have to look very far to see his conservation work in action. A few steps out the back door and a couple down the driveway, and his buffer is easy to see. The project — and the view it provides — has earned him the 2018 Nemaha County Conservation District Buffer Award.
Nestled in a creek bottom behind his house, Merle Bonjour’s buffer project started out as some good friends having a conversation. That good friend just happened to be Eldon Schwandt, Nemaha County District Conservationist. The result of the conversation: a buffer 20-plus acres in size that completely encircles 60-plus acres of farmland on Bonjour’s property.
The buffer project was started in 2008. After discussion with Schwandt and some technical expertise from Nemaha County Conservation District Technician Melvin Steinlage, Bonjour rented the Conservation District no-till drill and started planting. When completed, the planting project was actually two buffers in size.
The first buffer was considered a filter strip planted under the CP21 program. The 17.3-acre buffer measures a whopping 130 feet in width. The second is a CP33 contract, or habitat buffer planting for upland birds. This is the smaller of the two buffer projects at 2.9 acres and fifty feet in width. The buffers consist of six different grass and five different broadleaf species, including Big and Little bluestem, Indiangrass, Black-eyed Susan and Showy Partridge Pea. The plantings are a great addition to a farm with lots of creeks running through it, helping to prevent streambank erosion and reduce problems from flooding while providing some wildlife benefit as well.
A lifetime farmer, Bonjour grew up just north of his current home. For the last 55-plus years, he’s been on his current quarter section, spending his life raising hogs and row crops. Along the way, he took care of any needed conservation work himself. The hog enterprise was sold in 2000.
A bluegrass musician, it wouldn’t be at all uncommon to find Bonjour at a local rest home or area bluegrass festival singing and playing alongside his brother. Sometimes on a stage, and sometimes “jamming” elsewhere, it wouldn’t be at all a surprise to hear him playing and singing a tune on his back porch, his buffer project a backdrop as he completes another day.