Soil, wildlife conservation winners are announced
Soil conservation methods haven't changed much in the 50 years since Roy Cropp started teaching vocational agriculture.
"They've improved. They've gotten better, I'm sure," he said. "But the practices we have employed on our farm have been in place for a good number of years. They're basic conservation practices."
Those basic practices landed Cropp one of six special awards that will be presented during the Douglas County Conservation District's 55th annual meeting Jan. 29 in Building 21 of the Douglas County 4-H Fairgrounds.
At the meeting, Clyde Mermis, district conservationist of Natural Resources Conservation Services, will give a report on conservation work done in the past year. Members also will elect a representative for the board of directors. The spot currently is held by Charles Fawl.
Returning to natural land
Cropp, who taught agriculture at Burlingame for three years and at Lawrence High School for 12 years before becoming a guidance counselor, will receive one of three awards from the Kansas Bankers Assn. He owns 80 acres near Lecompton that he leases to farmers. The land has 1.8 acres of waterways, 9,400 linear feet of gradient terraces and 1,100 linear feet of water diversion.
"When I bought the place in 1966, there were no terraces, no waterways and no dams," he said. "I've put all of those."
Cropp has a dam that holds runoff water after heavy rains and releases it gradually into a nearby creek.
He'll take his conservation efforts one step further later this year, when he enrolls 47 of his acres into the Conservation Reserve Program, which compensates farmers for returning cultivated farmland to native grasses. Big bluestem, Indian and switch grasses will be planted on the land.
Although the program contract is for 10 years, Cropp said he'll keep the native grasses as long as he owns the land.
"As this land develops now into the grass program, it's wonderful for wildlife," he said. "And at the end of my 10-year contract, the grass can be grazed or hayed, but we can't take anything off of it during the contract. And I'll always see it remain in grass. I just think it's a good way to leave the farm in excellent condition when I leave the land."
Gail Neis and his son, Brad, will be continuing a family tradition when they receive their Kansas Bankers Assn. award. Gail's father received a soil conservation award in the early 1950s in Miami County.
The Neises own and farm about 800 acres near Edgerton and Wellsville. About 250 acres are pastureland, and they also have a cow-calf operation. The land includes 3 acres of waterways and 18,310 linear feet of gradient terraces.
"We've used conservation ever since I can remember," said Gail Neis, 68. "When I started farming with my dad we were farming on the contour somewhat, and we just increased it."
Brad Neis, 42, summed up the practical aspects of soil conservation.
"Basically, I want to keep the soil where it's at," he said. "We only have so much topsoil and we need to keep it with so much residue and use practices that will keep it in place."
Mike Fawl also is carrying on a family tradition by receiving a Kansas Bankers Assn. award. His father, Charles, won a conservation award in the early 1970s. The father-son duo farms 2,000 acres in southwest Douglas County, some of which has been in the family since the 1850s.
Their land is evenly divided between pastureland and cropland, on which they plant corn and soybeans. They have 17,211 linear feet of gradient terraces, 13,110 linear feet of underground tile outlet terraces and 418 linear feet of water diversion.
Mike Fawl, 45, said he's been working to improve the soil for the last 15 years, gradually adding terraces and waterways.
"You're only here for awhile," Fawl said, "and you can't abuse it."
Farm to wildlife reserve
Steven Kelly has turned some overworked farmland into a wildlife sanctuary of sorts on 160 acres south of Eudora. He will receive the Wildlife Habitat Conservation Award, sponsored by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.
"It needed some TLC," he said of the land he purchased eight years ago. "It was marginal ground that should have been left in grass or just native, and we're in the process of restoring it to its best use."
With help from the Douglas County Conservation District staff and the United States Department of Wildlife, Kelly has built two wetland areas and planted 3,200 shrubs to attract animals such as wild turkeys and butterflies. He's seen bobcats, coyotes, quail, ducks, deer, foxes, skunks and opossums on the land.
Kelly lives in Overland Park and also has crop-producing farms in Douglas County and in southeast and western Kansas. His teen-age children also have helped on the wildlife reserve.
"You'd be amazed how many kids up here have never seen a wild deer or a wild turkey," he said. "They take some of their friends up there and they're just amazed."
Bo Killough also is working to improve wildlife quality on his land. He'll receive the Grassland Management Award, sponsored by the Kansas Association of Conservation Districts and Sharp Brothers Seed of Healy.
Through the Kansas State University forestry department, Killough has planted 2,000 shrubs on his 850 acres of pastureland near Baldwin, and he's planning to plant another 600 soon.
"So many people are cutting trees down and clearing the land," he said. "I'm trying to help the wildlife come back into existence, and to conserve the moisture."
He's also planting native bluestem grasses on the land. The grasses handle the summer weather better than non-native varieties and help keep snow on the ground longer.
"It's kind of an all-natural product," he said. "You don't have to put fertilizers on it."
Norbert Grosdidier will receive the Goodyear Award, sponsored by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company and the National Association of Conservation Districts. He farms 700 acres, and has constructed 11.3 acres of waterways and 23,067 linear feet of terraces. He has 121 acres in the Conservation Reserve Program. Grosdidier was out of town and not available for comment for this story.