LONDON, Ohio — None of the five families honored for the 2019 Conservation Farm Family Awards had more to say than a simple “thank you” as they accepted their awards Sept. 19 at Farm Science Review.
For each — Kurt Farms, of Hardin County; Rick and Janice Brill, of Lorain County; Doug and Beth McConnell, of Muskingum County; Timothy and Lynn Miller, of Logan County; and Fred and Kristy Walters, of Hocking County — it’s just what they do every day, without fanfare, said those who sponsored the awards.
The award program has recognized Ohio farmers’ conservation efforts since 1984, as well as farmers’ willingness to reach to others and educate on conservation practices.
The awards are sponsored by: Ohio Farmer magazine, Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Ohio Department of Agriculture Division of Soil and Water Conservation.
For the two eastern region winners, the experience spans decades, from one family, the Brills, who have engaged in conservation practices since 1971, to the McConnells, who have jumped in over the past few years.
The Brills, of Brill-View Farm, in Lorain County, farmed 1,800 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and alfalfa, and milked 180 cows, until last year. Now, they raise 200 calves and heifers and farm 70 acres of wheat and 60 acres of corn silage. They have a daughter, Jess.
Although they have scaled back, they have a legacy of conservation, working with Lorain County Soil and Water Conservation District since the 1970s. They have also hosted many tour groups on their farm over the years.
“We strive to be good stewards of our land and environment,” Rick said. “Our philosophy has always been to incorporate the most up-to-date conservation practices.”
Adam Sharp, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation executive vice president, thanked the 2019 honorees for their dedication to practices that require diligence and extra care.
“When you have to go the extra mile — to do a little bit of conservation work here or there, and then grow those practices and maintain those practices — is not easy,” Sharp said. “You guys know that, it is not easy. It is part of the management that you have chosen to do.”
Jennifer Kiel, editor of Ohio Farmer magazine, agreed.
“This spring’s rains were particularly taxing on farmland and the efforts of these farm families proves valuable in keeping the soil in the fields, where it needs to be,” she said.
This was true for the McConnells, who farm 482 acres in Muskingum County. They grow corn and soybeans, with various cover crops, sorghum-sudangrass for hay, peas with oats for grazing and triticale for seed. They also custom-raise Jersey heifers for a nearby dairy.
They have two daughters: Landyn, 9, and Kendyl, 7.
They started changing their management practices when they noticed washes in their soybean stubble a few years ago, Doug said. At the same time, the Muskingum Soil and Water Conservation District was offering funding for cover crops.
They haven’t looked back. Even with the rains last fall and spring, Doug said at most, he’s seen tread patterns in the field when driving heavy equipment through. The soil drains better.
There is curiosity, too. They try one thing and see even more possibilities come from it.
“We’ve got this question, and then we see kind of an answer to it, and then it creates six more questions,” Doug said.
With each new crop or management practice they’ve tried since then, they’ve seen improvements, Beth said.
They plan to sow their garden down with cereal rye. They’re also looking at how different crops work, how close they can get companion crops planted together.
“We interested not just in the conserving, but in the regenerating,” Doug said.
They’re inspired by the changes they see on their farm, and by others, like Fairfield County’s Dave Brandt, a long-time no-till farmer.
“It works,” Beth said.
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