Called to conserve

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LOUDONVILLE, Ohio – Ken and Dorothy Stitzlein want to be certain of one thing in life. They want to know their farm will be around long after they’re gone.
As far as they know, there’s only one way to accomplish that – conservation.
They know that what they do today will have a big impact of the quality of their land tomorrow.
Through the use of more than half a dozen conservation practices, the Stitzleins are doing everything they can to make sure their farm will be around for the long haul.
Ken and Dorothy’s 600-acre farm sits in Ashland and Holmes counties. They raise about 150 acres of corn, 100 acres of soybeans and 40 acres of alfalfa. The farm also includes a 100-acre woodlot.
Forty-five crossbred beef cows and 100 animals in the feedlot round out the operation.
The practices. The couple’s conservation efforts begin just a few feet outside the barn door. Two areas of heavy use pads, plus access lanes, prevent the well-used ground from becoming a messy mud hole.
Stream exclusion in two pastures keeps the cows out of the water running through the property. Not only does this type of fencing system improve water quality, it also reduces erosion along the spring-fed streams.
“It really protects the stream banks,” Ken said.
Practices like rotational grazing and selective tree harvest also add value and longevity to the farm.
One of the Stitzlein’s oldest conservation techniques is a 30-by-2,200 foot grassed waterway. Running through one of the crop fields, the waterway has been controlling drainage since Ken and Dorothy installed it through a cost-share program in the 1980s.
But the longest-running conservation practice on the farm goes back even further. In the early 1970s, Ken was one of the first farmers in his area to experiment with no-till.
Today, the farmer wouldn’t dream of planting any other way. It’s a practice that keeps his farm profitable.
“It’s allowed us to grow grain crops on some of the land that would be considered highly erodible,” Ken said.
But the pair is quick to point out they didn’t do all this on their own. The Stitzleins attribute much of their conservation success to the Holmes Soil and Water Conservation District and Holmes County Farm Service Agency.
Ken and Dorothy’s efforts were recognized this year when they were chosen to receive Ohio’s Conservation Farm Family Award, making them one of the top conservation farms in the state.
How it started. Even as young farmers, conservation was nothing new to Ken and Dorothy. It was a concept etched in their minds from the beginning.
“I think we both grew up on farms where conservation practices were highly valued,” Dorothy said.
Both can recall the days when contour farming was a new conservation technique and both remember their families working to implement the practice.
Ken credits his father, his high school vo-ag teacher and local soil and water technicians with helping him see the benefits of a well-conserved farm. As a boy, he particularly liked to see the work of local technicians.
“I was always quite impressed when the technician would come and enjoyed walking along with him,” Ken said.
As he got older, the farmer knew conservation would be an important part of his future.
“We saw the value, at least in this rolling terrain, of using conservation practices,” he said.
Spreading the word. These days, Ken, is the one nudging others to see the advantages of conservation.
As president of his local co-op, he has helped secure no-till equipment to rent to local farmers.
He has also participated in on-farm research, collecting data from no-till test plots of corn and soybeans for 15 years to help with studies at Ohio State University and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.
He and Dorothy hope the information gathered from their fields will increase the significance of the research, not just for them, but for farmers everywhere.
They figure it’s up to them – and their fellow farmers – to leave the land better than the way they found it.
And every time they conserve just a little bit, they’re one step closer.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at jskrinjar@farmanddairy.com.)

About the Author

Former reporter Janelle Skrinjar wrote for Farm and Dairy from 2005 to 2009. More Stories by Janelle Skrinjar

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