Committed to conservation. Plain and simple, that's what this year's Conservation Legacy Award regional winners all have in common, and what makes each of them such sterling stewards.
From a talented field of entrants, these U.S. soybean growers rose to the top based on their environmental and conservation efforts.
The final picks were made by a national committee of soybean farmers, conservationists and natural resource professionals.
All four regional winners and spouses or guests will receive all-expense-paid trips to the Commodity Classic in Las Vegas, NV, March 2-4. The overall winner will also receive a plaque and yard sign to recognize his achievement.
The Conservation Legacy Award program is sponsored by the American Soybean Association, Monsanto and The Corn And Soybean Digest.
Darryl Corriher wasn't planning to return to the farm after graduating from Duke University in 1973. But as it turns out, it was the best decision he could have made.
In his partnership with Tom Hall of C&H Grain, Corriher farms 2,900 acres. Since 1992, it has been 100% no-till. “We've shown that permanent no-till, or never-till, in our area makes us more productive while protecting the environment,” he says. He figures he uses only about 3 gal./acre of diesel to plant, spray, harvest and transport grain.
Crop residues from his corn, wheat and soybeans prevent wind and water erosion. He also uses contouring (1,500 acres), buffer strips (100 acres) and terracing (75 acres) for water control and to prevent erosion and siltation of streams.
Corriher's self-propelled sprayer comes equipped with a Raven Spray Controller for accuracy. In addition, he soil tests half his acreage annually and applies nutrients accordingly.
No chemicals are loaded or mixed near wellheads, and fertilizers and petroleum are not stored on the farm. Since he's located near a distributor, fuel is transported directly to the equipment. Also, pesticides are locked in a storage area when not being used. Corriher has state certification with an applicator's license to handle and apply restricted-use pesticides.
“We've cut erosion rates tremendously and have improved stream water quality,” Corriher says. “Our soils now have a friable high organic layer on the surface that holds more rain and nutrients.”
He's a strong supporter of land preservation efforts and believes saving farmland will become an integral part of conservation efforts in the future.
Although not quite there, brothers Philip and Dwight Lohrenz have set their sights on being 100% no-till. On their 3,000-acre crop and livestock operation in south-central Kansas, no-tilling has cut fuel consumption in half. That, they say, results in fewer man- and machine-hours, fewer oil changes, fewer tractor tire replacements and a definite improvement in soil productivity.
The brothers farm with their father, James, on the operation that started in 1887. Through the help of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, they manage 25,080 ft. of terraces and 14.2 acres of waterways. Some of the land has been in no-till for nine years; they've changed from a winter wheat and grain sorghum-only rotation to a winter wheat, grain sorghum, corn and soybean rotation.
The Lohrenzes leave barriers of trees and grass between fields and the nearby Little Arkansas River to act as natural buffers. Deer, coyotes, bobcats, turkeys, ducks, pheasants, quail and songbirds inhabit the area. One winter, in fact, more than 1,200 turkeys roamed the area; some had to be relocated.
Soils are sampled every two to three years and fertilizer applied accordingly. They especially like the extra gain in nitrogen, about 30 lbs./acre, with the move to soybeans in the rotation.
They've begun using global positioning system (GPS) guidance to map field boundaries and use a hand-held computer to record inputs across the field each year. “The grid samples will allow us to better apply fertilizer on an as-needed basis and help us maintain pH concerns that might arise,” Philip says.
Fertilizer and chemicals are loaded away from wellheads or areas prone to runoff. Fertilizer has been brought to the farm on demand. This winter, however, they're installing a fertilizer containment area. About 98% of chemicals are bought in bulk so the shuttles are returned to the retailer. Any small containers are triple rinsed and disposed of properly.
“Conservation is important to us and we're only hurting ourselves and the people around us if we don't do the right thing,” Philip says. “As farmers and ranchers, we should always feel like we're in school learning new ways or improving our old ways of doing things.”
As a fifth-generation family member to run Jackson Farms, Mark Jackson lives by the rule of doing what's best from a conservation — and economic — standpoint.
He farms 1,000 acres, half corn and half soybeans, plus runs a 1,000-head grower/finisher swine enterprise on his southeast Iowa operation.
Since he began farming in 1974, he's continued to establish terraces (235 acres), waterways, grassed headlands, buffer strips and contours (320 acres). He's a devout integrated pest management disciple on all acres to reduce costs and sustain a healthy environment. “It creates a lot of scouting, but it allows me to target problem areas,” he says.
Jackson also uses GPS to grid sample soils (225 acres/year), then uses variable-rate technology to apply fertilizer. Hog manure is an integral part of his fertility program, too. He injects it to prevent nutrient migration into water sources and to preserve good-neighbor relations.
No-till on 600 acres has been a mainstay for nearly 20 years with the help of an inline ripper to fracture sub-surface compaction layers. Three hundred acres are in a minimum-till program.
Buffer strips on 14 acres have a two-fold value: soil filtration and wildlife habitat. Also, terraces protect 235 acres of highly erodible land.
The operation has a 72-acre wetland with an adjacent 82-acre sediment basin for wildlife habitat. In 1982, he established a forest reserve adjoining the farm by planting 3,500 seedling pines, conifers and hardwoods. Now that area is a wildlife haven plus a good retreat for family camping and hiking.
“Conservation is about enhancing the quality of the land,” Jackson says. “Never let it be so important that our pursuit of wealth overshadows our need to improve our environment for generations to come.”
When you mention conservation in Virginia, all roads lead to Charles City, home of brothers David and Stan Hula and father Stanley Jr. The fourth-generation Renwood Farms is a 5,000-acre operation spanning three counties just 110 miles south of Washington, D.C.
The Hulas have been continuously no-tilling on 4,600 acres since 1987, and have been leaders in sustainable practices.
“The Hulas are considered some of the most progressive farmers in Virginia. They have pioneered many of the practices used today to reduce non-point source pollution associated with cash grain production,” says Brian Noyes, Colonial Soil and Water Conservation District manager. “Many of the intensive nutrient management indicators used today in Virginia can be traced back to management tools used more than a decade ago by the Hulas.”
The Hulas use a stripper header for small grain harvest, GPS to guide fertilizer and lime applications, and sidedress nitrogen after soil nitrate testing.
They protect wellheads with grass buffer strips. Grass buffer zones are also used around all wetland areas for pollution control and wildlife enhancement. Pesticides are stored in an enclosed, locked room. Refillable, returnable pesticide containers or water-dispersible packs are used whenever possible. Fuel is stored in double-walled tanks.
Since 3,000 ft. of property butts up to the James River in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Area, David considers soil conservation not only good stewardship, but also a way of life.
“This is the environment in which I work and live; why wouldn't I want to do everything I can to protect it?” he asks.
Besides their conservation efforts, the Hulas also run a certified seed business, operate an agricultural museum and this year built their first-ever corn maze.