The gathering of 50 or so farmers, agency personnel and university officials called itself a "wrap-up" conference of the Kansas Rural Center's Clean Water Farms Project (CWFP).
The conference and farm tour was sponsored by the Kansas Rural Center and the Kansas Biological Survey. By the end of the day's activities, participants saw how the development of 33 farm and ranch demonstrations, in 18 counties, would have long-range impacts well beyond this "wrap-up."
Mary Fund, project director, greeted attendees of the conference, at the Onaga Community Building, with an overview of the project. She said the project developed out of the Kansas Rural Center's "commitment to environmental health, especially water quality."
Fund added that along with environmental concerns, the center also desired to develop a project that "provided good practical information that benefits farms and families economically."
Concluding her remarks, Fund announced a new four-year project that she called Clean Water Farms II. This project would focus on whole farm assessment, as well as continued water-quality project development.
The morning sessions began with two farmer panel discussions. The first session focused on water-quality projects developed around forages and livestock management. Farmers described their work with crops and rotations in the second panel.
Alan Hubbard, Pottawatomie County rancher, credited his water site developments funded in part by the CWFP with allowing him to keep steers on grass during this dry year. "We haven't had a run-off for rain for 14 months, but we did have adequate grass," said Hubbard.
Hubbard's projects include establishing a 10,000-gallon tank that supplies water to several paddocks, a spring development, water pipe outlets below run-off pond dams and extensive cross fencing. Hubbard noted that steers drinking from water development projects had a quarter pound average daily gain advantage over the steers that watered exclusively in creeks and ponds on his 6,000-acre ranch.
Bruce Spare, Assaria, noted how he had taken on an acreage that a previous operator had broken out of pasture. Spare observed that "this ground always was difficult to farm," with its combination of problem areas. "An intermittent stream crossed the field, some of the acres were classified highly erodible and other places were always wet," added the rancher. His project involved establishing a well, planting endophyte-free fescue and establishing grazing paddocks on the acreage.
Spare puts approximately 80 four-weight heifers into the cell in April and removes them in mid-August. He then stockpiles the fescue for winter grazing.
Also sitting on the panel of graziers were David Morrison, Salina, and Ardell Kufahl, Wheaton. Morrison had converted crop ground located on a floodplain, east of Salina, to grass and forages. Morrison said the transition was "enjoyable, but challenging," because "I don't particularly like tilling and farming as well as I like grazing."
Kufahl noted that after subdividing his pastures, planting additional grass on crop ground and developing a buried water system, he is seeing prairie chickens return and use some of the upland acres for "booming ground."
Crop producers made up the second morning panel. Marion County farmers Herb Bartel and Rod Peters, Larry Ketter, from Marshall County, and Darrell Parks, who farms outside of Manhattan, described their operations and projects to the audience.
Herb and Pat Bartel used grant money to accomplish a variety of projects on their 340-acre farm adjacent to Marion Reservoir. They focused on developing a crop rotation incorporating legumes, cover crops, wheat and soybeans that would add fertility and help eliminate pesticide use. They also have worked to repair gullies and establish riparian areas on the farm.
Herb Bartel said, "My project is really about land restoration. Water quality by itself would be very difficult, without establishing soil quality. Everything is linked--soil, water, livestock, crops. You don't single out one item."
Ketter grows organic crops and manages 75 pairs on his farm, between Marysville and Frankfort. Working with a Kansas Rural Center field assistant, Ketter developed a written nine-year crop rotation plan that includes alfalfa, cereal grains, soybeans and corn. "While it isn't always easy to stick strictly to the plan, it helps me to establish a schedule base," said Ketter.
Ketter also has fenced off a creek on the farm and put in an automatic waterer. In that same area, Ketter has built a diversion dam above a weaning pen helping to keep the lot less muddy, and water entering the creek less prone to pollution.
Parks shared the challenges of working with a diversified crop and swine operation, in the Kansas River Valley. Parks has relocated gestation and finishing lots from off of a steep hillside, and reseeded the area to grass. The farrowing now takes place in a pasture setting. Gestation pens are adjacent to a woodlot, as well as to corn and alfalfa fields.
Parks has used his Clean Water Farms grant to achieve his goals of developing organic crop production, deconcentrating livestock and establishing a forage and crop base. Even though Parks sees that crop rotations and integrating swine into cropping systems takes time," I think you can do differently than what the others are doing and succeed."
A no-till farmer, Peters said he felt like the "black sheep" on the panel. Never the less, Peters is concerned about water quality and keeping soil in place. His grant went toward constructing bermless grass waterways that extended existing waterways, fencing cattle off of a creek and demonstrating a no-till crop rotation incorporating legume cover crops.
Peters added, "I use herbicides, and I want to make sure they aren't running down the creek. I need residue on the soil to keep that from happening."
Peters also noted that he and a group of other area no-till farmers have just formed a cluster to learn more about using cover crops and legumes in their cropping systems.
After dinner, agency and university representatives spoke, from Kansas State University Extension, the State Conservation Commission, Environmental Protection Agency, Natural Resources and Conservation Service and Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Most addressed the future outlook of water quality projects and funding in Kansas. Daryl Buchholz, KSU, hoped that continued "teamwork with agencies across the state will help promote and move our agricultural systems toward better water quality."
Tracy Streeter, director of the State Conservation Districts, as well as Steve Parkin, from NRCS, and Pete Davis, representing EPA Region VII, emphasized future targeting of funds toward watershed basins, monitoring and key problems like coliform bacteria. "We are moving into more of a litigating society, so we need to prove that the dollars are hitting the mark," said Streeter.
After the agency panel, the participants traveled by bus to the farm of Dan and Mary Howell, outside of Frankfort. The Howells had converted crop ground to a grazing system of fescue and alfalfa. They use the area primarily in the spring as a calving area for their 150 head of Hereford cross cows. The Kansas Biological Survey had set up monitoring stations on the farm to evaluate and quantify the water as it moves into the groundwater and into the adjacent Corndodger Creek.
The day ended with a sharing of comments and refreshments. Scott Satterwaite, KDHE, observed that "great strides" are being made in Kansas water quality, because of organizations like the Kansas Rural Center. He also congratulated the Clean Water Farms farmers for "being way ahead of the program," in the area of agricultural water protection.