“Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.” That quote from conservationist Aldo Leopold, considered by many to be the father of wildlife management, sums up the philosophy of this year's Conservation Legacy Award regional winners.
In its seventh year, the award program recognizes outstanding environmental and conservation achievements of U.S. soybean farmers. This year's regional winners are sterling examples of practicing what they preach, from saving soil with no-till production practices to providing abundant habitat for wildlife.
And why do they do it? It's simple, as one winner put it: “Our land and water must be protected now and in the future for the next generation and beyond.”
Applications came from four regions, and final selections were judged by a panel of conservation professionals.
All four regional winners and spouses or guests will receive expense-paid trips to Commodity Classic in Nashville, TN, Feb. 28-March 1. The overall winner receives a plaque and a yard sign in recognition of the award.
The Conservation Legacy Award program is sponsored by the American Soybean Association, Monsanto and Corn & Soybean Digest.
Debbie & Wayne Corse
Wayne and Debbie Corse are poster children for demonstrating that a profitable farm is capable of being a conservation farm. “Our goal is to minimally affect the environment and show that we can make a difference,” says Wayne, who farms 2,600 acres of flat Mississippi River delta.
Last year they grew 1,183 soybean acres, 578 corn, 399 grain sorghum and 466 wheat acres. In total, 2,100 of those acres are under no-till management and have been for the last 8-17 years. The Corses have a Conservation Security Program level III contract for most of those acres and are completing a five-year EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentive Program) contract this year.
Integrated pest management gets top priority. “We scout religiously and any pesticides are applied only after prescribed economic thresholds have been passed,” says Wayne, who is a certified crop advisor and an NRCS technical service provider.
The Corses grid soil sample every three years, and phosphate and potash is applied only in required amounts where needed; nitrogenis split-applied to reduce runoff or leaching.
To protect groundwater, they do not mix, handle or spay pesticides within the prescribed 50-ft. distance from wells. They've even eliminated their on-farm fuel storage tank and now use only a fuel tank mounted on a trailer. Used oil is recycled back to the supplier.
Since both Wayne and Debbie have master's degrees in wildlife studies, they pay especially close attention to protecting natural habitat. They have 21.7 acres of grass filter strips, 170 acres of wetland forest and 16.1 acres of field borders, windbreaks and wildlife enhancement areas. They also leave ¼ acre of unharvested crop for every 40 acres to provide winter food and wildlife cover.
NRCS Conservationist Robyn Sitzes says: “I've worked with many excellent operators, but none have been as dedicated to the total conservation of natural resources as the Corse family.”
J.C. & Alma Rountree
South Mills, NC
As you'd expect after more than 50 years of running Rountree Farms, J.C. and Alma Rountree can tell endless stories of how their 240 acres grew into 2,000. Today, 1,550 of those are no-till and 450 minimum-till.
A major change, according to J.C., is that they live in a top-10 area of population growth for the entire U.S. “Adapting has been key to our operation. Conserving the soil and protecting the water has and always will be a necessary part of what we do,” he says.
The Rountrees, including son Eric, use integrated pest management on the entire operation to ensure that pests do not cause economic damage to crops. They also use crop history and scouting to assure they're protecting their investment.
“We soil sample 1,000 acres annually so that we provide nutrients for the crop while protecting the surrounding environment,” he says. “We strive to maintain a pH of six on all our cropland, and we knifed in our nitrogen on 800 corn acres last year.”
By minimizing tillage, the Rountrees have reduced equipment and fuel usage while improving water utilization. “We've reduced water runoff and topsoil loss due to wind,” he says.
The Rountrees have 23 acres of buffer strips plus water control structures to slow runoff during heavy rainfalls. That's particularly important since they farm at sea level. They maintain several windbreaks to slow down winds that cause problems with blowing soil. And they also work with North Carolina State University and agribusiness companies to host best management practices on-farm demonstrations.
They store pesticides in a 40-ft. metal container to keep them dry and secure. All fertilizer is custom applied, and they participate in a countywide pesticide container recycling program.
An avid hunter, Rountree is proud that his farm is home to black bear, deer, waterfowl and many other wild species. He provides about 23 acres a year in wildlife food plots.
When it comes to conservation, Rountree says: “While our earth is changing we cannot sit still. If we do, we'll go backwards. Our land and water must be protected now and in the future for the next generation and beyond.”
Jamie, Cathy & Jim Scott
Keeping the soil means keeping the nutrients. That's the mantra at J.A. Scott Farms run by Jim, Cathy and Jamie Scott. “Conservation of soil, water and air is considered in everything we do on the farm,” says Jim. “We strive to improve the natural resources while maintaining a profitable farming operation.”
No-till is a huge part of their operation, too. “All tillable land is no-tilled (1,650 acres) or strip-tilled (250 acres) every year, no exceptions,” he says. In fact, they've been using no-till for over 25 years to help increase oxygen content in the soils and increase earthworm populations, as well as other biological activity.
The Scotts scout all their fields once a week from the month prior to crop establishment until harvest. If something needs treating, they spot treat if possible. They use GPS on their sprayer to help eliminate overlaps and skips, which reduces chemical usage.
“This concept has allowed us to use fewer chemicals because we have fewer weeds going to seed, andcontinuous no-till has reduced the amount of chemicals needed on our farms,” Scott says.
The Scotts soil sample by soil type on ⅓ of their acres every year on a 2.5-acre grid. “We pull soil samples on two levels on about ¼ of each year's samples, some at 0-2 in. and also 3-9 in. This helps us see if segregation of nutrients is taking place in our no-till fields,” Scott says.
Almost 1,200 acres each year are planted to annual ryegrass as a cover crop to help keep soil in place, improve water quality and increase organic matter. Some ryegrass is flown on before the crops are harvested and the balance is spread on top or no-till drilled after harvest. Prior to planting in the spring, the ryegrass is burned down. “This ryegrass picks up unused nutrients from the previous crop and returns them to the soil for the next crop,”he explains.
No fertilizer is applied broadcast. Nitrogen (N) is sidedressed and foliar applications of nutrients are applied three to four times during the growing season to improve uptake efficiency.
The Scotts also use a chlorophyll meter to help determine N content of the leaves throughout the growing season. Early in the season this helps establish sidedress rates and later on the foliar balance of nutrients is adjusted per reading levels.
About 50 acres of grassed buffer strips have been planted in all open ditches, and hay has been planted in some highly erodible fields. Plus, concrete inlet structures and stone chutes have been built in some ditches. They've also planted 35 acres of trees on their owned land for wind and shelter breaks, and have built two ponds to capture excess rainfall and provide water for wildlife.
“We hope our management practices have made a positive impact on the environment, on our farms, our watershed and in our community,” Scott says.
Kevin Compton truly believes in being a good steward of the land, just as his forefathers did. In fact, this year marks 100 years that the Hiawatha, KS, operation — started by his grandfather — has been in the family.
“It's our responsibility to treat the land we raise our families on with respect so future generations have the same opportunities with it that we have enjoyed,” he says.
Compton farms 2,900 acres of corn and soybeans with the help of two part-time employees and his son Chad, who helps out when he has extra time from his job at a crop insurance company.
All of the acres have been terraced or farmed in contours. About 2,600 of those acres are currently in no-till with the rest in minimum-till, strip-till and cover crops. With 95% of his ground in no-till since 1984, he's no stranger to the benefits it and crop rotation offer, such as a reduction in pesticide use. He also runs 150 crossbred cows in the operation.
All of Compton's fertilizer is handled in a containment area and he stores petroleum in a separate area where runoff can be contained. Hazardous waste is disposed of properly at the county landfill.
To cut back on soil erosion, he planted 3 acres of shelterbelt windbreaks in 1979 and is planning on putting in two more this year. “I leave hedge rows around the farms for wind protection and wildlife habitat,” he says. “I also plan to add food plots soon.”
According to Matt Sprick, NRCS district conservationist, “Kevin has an excellent conservation ethic, which is evident as you view his farming operation. He's addressed conservation issues such as gully erosion, along with water quality through both management and structural conservation practices.”