LOUISVILLE, Ohio – When the Stark Soil and Water Conservation District hosted its annual banquet last week, there weren’t many children or teens present.
But Jerry and Lori Dickerhoof’s three children – Alicia, 21; Amy, 19; and Aaron, 17, all made it a point to be there.
It wasn’t so much that they had to go to see their father pick up the county’s Conservation Farmer of the Year award, and it wasn’t because they didn’t have more pressing things to do.
According to their mother, the kids went because they wanted to, because they like the district staff, and because, in a way, they’re helping carry on the family tradition of soil stewardship.
Family tradition. Twenty years ago, Jerry’s father, the late Paul Dickerhoof, picked up the same award from the district.
That award, coupled with the newest, marks the family’s life-long commitment to improving the farm’s land and waterways.
In addition, the Dickerhoofs were state finalists for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Conservation Farm Family of the Year award in 1994.
In the past 30 years, Broadview Farm, situated just off Paris Avenue on Kenmore Street, between Louisville and Alliance in Stark County, has been groomed into a picturesque and pastoral scene.
The three farmsteads that comprise the operation are completely systematically tiled and are criss-crossed with grassed waterways.
“Dad always maintained the waterways and drainage, so we’ve kept that up,” Dickerhoof said, noting that the closest estimate he could provide is that they’ve got “miles and miles and miles” of installed tile.
Waterways. Dickerhoof’s mission is to keep waterways where necessary, though he admits it’s sometimes next to impossible.
This past summer he spent a described “awful” amount of time redoing three of those waterways.
“It was so dry, then we seeded, and as soon as that was done we got hard rains and they all washed out,” he said. He repeated the process a total of three times on each waterway.
In addition, waterways are mowed tall once a year. Previously they had been mowed and round baled when hay was cut, but the family soon learned that the short stubble they were leaving wasn’t enough to hold enough water back.
“It takes a lot of time and maintenance, but I don’t like our soil running off into any ditches,” he said.
Crops and dairy. Time seems to be a small price to pay for a man who prides himself in raising nice crops including corn, soybeans, alfalfa, wheat and oats on 475 acres. The crops fall into Dickerhoof’s own system of strict and profitable rotation.
The crops, raised mainly to support the herd of 92 grade Holsteins and replacements, are strip-cropped in areas prone to erosion.
According to Dickerhoof, the main farm’s spread is the center point of a drainage area for a large area.
“We’ve got to contend with all the problems that might come along with water coming off someone else’s property. The water’s not held back.”
To help alleviate some of the flowing water across the property, the family has talked about installing a dry pond.
The dry pond would be situated in a pasture and would grow grasses for grazing when not in use. Then, before a storm, the pond could be fenced in and allowed to catch rainwater and runoff.
Manure storage. Quite possibly one of the farm’s largest projects to date was the installation of a concrete manure holding pit completed last summer.
After signing up for cost share dollars, examining plans for the structure and several discussions with district personnel, the 660,000-gallon capacity tank became a reality.
The tank, 12 feet deep and 80 feet in diameter, can support 100 cows for six months.
With the mindset that the pit should have been built out of sight, Dickerhoof settled when engineers told him the best site was within feet of the road.
“I really think that should be hidden somewhere. Who wants to see that?” he said.
To help hide the pit and the chain link fence that surrounds it, the family plans to landscape with shrubs soon.
In the fall a scarecrow hung from the fence, and as winter approaches, the young Dickerhoofs have threatened to string holiday icicle lights on the perimeter fence.
Disappointments. With the same good humor, the family is still slightly disappointed with the structure.
Last Christmas Eve, young Aaron found himself wading in manure for three hours after the gravity fill pipe clogged.
“Even after he had showered, he still smelled like manure. We felt so bad for him,” Lori Dickerhoof said.
Told it would crust over and be odor-free, the pit has yet to do so, partly because of the gravity flow used to fill it. Options to remedy the problem include using shredded straw to help form a barrier on top.
But the family can point out the good points of the pit.
“Most farmers wouldn’t build this design. You can’t put sand in it at all, but it works for our sawdust bedding,” Dickerhoof said.
The couple, who foresees laws requiring manure injection and other environmental regulations, is proud of what they’ve built.
“We didn’t want a lagoon that could let who knows what seep into the ground. With the concrete, nothing’s going anywhere.”
Ongoing projects. The farm has also developed springs and the family is considering adding another, and each of the waterways is constantly maintained.
“It’s really an ongoing process, consistent. Nothing we do is one big project, and then it’s done,” Dickerhoof said.
The couple credits Jerry’s parents, including his mother, Marjorie, who continues to plant flowers and mow grass around the farm’s house and outbuildings, for getting them where they are today.
“I’m not just doing this for myself. Dad did these things, so I should too,” he said.
“My name is on this award, but it’s really for the whole family.”
Perhaps Lori Dickerhoof, raised on a dairy herself, summed it up best.
“Growing up, I was told that I was a steward of the land and I didn’t have full ownership. That’s kind of the bottom line of all conservation,” she said.
“We take care of the land, and it takes care of us,” her husband said.
(You can contact Andrea Myers at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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