Crops weave ribbons across landscape

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DALTON, Ohio – Two Saturdays ago, Bill Farriss helped a neighbor spread manure.

In return for his aid, that neighbor piloted Farriss down the runway and soared him hundreds of feet over the two men’s farms for an inspection.

From the air at springtime, the farms look like a patchwork of greens and browns.

Farriss’ use of contour strips makes his acreage look more decorative and ribbon-like than other farms’ straight-edged block fields.

“The place sure looks pretty from the air,” said Farriss, looking at photographs he snapped during the flight.

His wife, Carol, agrees.

“We’ve put a lot of years into getting it to look like that, too,” she said.

Early project. The couple began the task when the farm was purchased in 1961. Though some of the contour strips were in place, originally laid out by Soil and Water Conservation District technicians, more have been added over the years.

In all, the Wayne County farm now has nearly 700 acres laid out with contoured crop strips.

The method prevents a great deal of soil erosion, especially from a steep hill just south of the farm. The farm is situated at the bottom of the hill’s drainage basin.

The strips vary from 90 to 120 feet in width, depending on their location. In more critical areas, the strips are narrower.

The family has also created more than 2 miles of grassed waterways and installed subsurface drain tiling.

Neither Farriss can estimate the number of miles of tile on their property.

“Well, let’s just say there’s a lot,” the couple joked.

The farm also uses minimum tillage.

The family received a conservation farm award from Wayne County in 2001 and picked up a plaque at the state level in 2002 for their conservation practices.

“It’s kind of nice to get those types of awards, it makes the work feel appreciated,” Farriss said.

Merged into one. One of the farm’s earliest projects was the consolidation of two drainage ditches into one.

The ditches cut the center of the 289-acre homestead parcel the length of the farm and were plagued with erosion.

“A lot of farm ditches curve and the sides fall in. We didn’t want that,” he said.

Water from one was rerouted to the other and now, all these years later, that one ditch drains the property better than both did together, according to the couple.

Added land value. Conservation practices have added value to the farmstead.

Land in the Dalton community – heavy in numbers in both Amish farms and new houses popping up – is selling for $7,000 to $9,000 an acre, a situation whose balance concerns the Farrisses.

“Last year I was hot and heavy into [the Clean Ohio farmland preservation program], but I’ve been pretty busy this year and didn’t get the paperwork filled out again” to reapply before the April deadline, Bill Farriss said.

Last year’s application was among more than 400 submitted for state and federal funding through the Clean Ohio easement purchase program.

Gobbled up. “But I really believe in [farmland preservation.] Land is being gobbled up left and right,” he said.

“My idea [in trying to sell an easement through Clean Ohio] is just to tie it up. I’m not in it for the money. My son wants to farm this,” Farriss said of his son, Alan.

The family also includes a son, Todd, who lives with his family near the west edge of the farm, and a daughter, Teri, and her family.

Twenty years ago, the family started thinking about preservation when houses ended up on Farriss’ boyhood farm south of Akron.

Conservation practices played right into the plan.

“I know there’s only so much good land. I felt that an established business, this farm, could continue even if houses came up around us,” he said.

“Everything we do is for that,” he said.

Milking herd. Like Bill Farriss’ home farm, the couple first started their operation with hogs and beef cattle.

“At the time, though, beef was bad and hogs were bad. We were losing our shirts,” Farriss said.

The family quickly moved Holsteins into the facility, and they’ve been there ever since.

The family currently milks 285 Holsteins and has plans to grow internally to an eventual milking herd of 300 cows.

Three years ago, the family modernized its operation by adding a freestall barn and double 16 parallel milking parlor.

The parlor is computerized and allows the family to record production data on each cow.

“It takes away a lot of the headaches of watching the cows and sorting them. I can get a morning printout of activity to use when I do a herd check, and the computers help sort” the cows, Bill Farriss said.

While the computer anchors the farm office desk and is used for tracking the cows, Carol Farriss does bookkeeping for the operation on a home computer.

At the Farriss dairy, no one pushes a pencil, according to the patriarch, though lately son Alan has been running some figures to determine profitability in the farm’s enterprises.

The operation also includes dairy steers, referred to affectionately as “new paint” by Bill Farriss.

“They help keep new paint around here, pay the debts,” he joked.

(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)

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