May 4, 2012

RURAL PAPERS # 243 April-May 2012


       by Joanna Voigt

    Women, Farming and Conservation
A Mother's Day Salute to a Different Viewpoint
         by Mary Fund

 State Policy News
    State Veto Session Begins
      By Paul Johnson

Farm Policy News
     Senate Agriculture Committee Marks Up  2012 Farm Bill

 Women and Farming
      Education Program Launched for Women Landowners
          by Mary Fund

   Meet Brandi Swiler-- New SE Chapter Coordinator
   Savor the Season Announces Cost-Share and Mini Grants
   OLF Website Breaks Ground

  The Circle of Farming: Cover Crops Good Step Toward Soil Health
         by Tom Parker

May 3, 2012

Jill Elmers, center, explains her
production system in her high tunnel.

High Tunnel Workshops Showcase Opportunities in NE Kansas 

by Joanna Voigt

What could be better than spending a warm, sunny, spring morning outdoors? How about spending a warm, sunny, spring morning observing high tunnel production in action, followed by an afternoon of high tunnel discussion from experts and experienced high tunnel farmers? For 50 lucky folks, this opportunity became reality at a recent Farm Tour and High Tunnel Workshop hosted by the Kansas Rural Center and K-State Research and Extension, and the Kansas SARE Program.

On March 13, farm tour attendees explored Jill Elmers’ “Moon on the Meadow Farm” located on the east edge of Lawrence, Kansas. Elmers produces about 3 plus acres of vegetables, herbs, and small fruits, and sells her produce through a 125-person CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) subscription service, as well as at the Downtown Lawrence Farmers’ Market and to local grocery stores and restaurants. Strategic management of her four, 20’ x 96’ high tunnels (also referred to as hoophouses) allows Elmers to significantly extend the growing season for a number of crops and to grow a few crops year-round.

Elmers, who has been farming for nine years with six as a certified organic grower, had beets, spinach, strawberries, and carrots growing in her high tunnels, along with several rows of cover crops.

Elmers described the high tunnel building process; outlined management basics such as irrigation, ventilation, and possible heat sources; and discussed strategies for coping with roof run-off and pests in the high tunnel. Elmers detailed which crops she plants in her high tunnels, how she maintains soil health inside the tunnels, and how utilizing high tunnels benefits her farm operation.

One of Elmers’ high tunnels was acquired through the USDA NRCS EQIP Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative program, and Elmers said the grant application process was fairly easy. Two of Elmers’ high tunnels are located down the road from her farm on additional land she recently acquired. Elmers is teaming up with K-State to study soil microbiology on the new farm during the transition to organic practices. One facet of the study will compare soil microbiology of soil inside the high tunnels with that of soil in the fields.

As the tour wrapped up, Elmers remarked, “I wish had ten high tunnels because the ability to control Mother Nature outweighs any challenges that high tunnels present. There is much greater demand for the produce I grow than I am able to fill.”

Above are two of Jill Elmers' four tunnels where she raises vegetables, herbs, and small fruits on her farm on the east edge of Lawrence, Ks.  In March KRC hosted two high tunnel workshops-- the tour and classroom workshop involving Jill’s operation, and a second construction workshop involving actual hands-on experience with building the structure.  

In the afternoon, workshop attendees headed to the Douglas County Extension Center for more information on high tunnels. Cary Rivard, Extension Vegetable and Fruit Crop Specialist provided a presentation on high tunnel construction, produc-tion, and management. Rivard has a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology from North Carolina State University where his research focused on high tunnel production of grafted tomatoes. Rivard, who joined KSU within the last year, is involved in high tunnel research and fieldwork in his position at the K-State Research and Extension Center in Olathe.

“The primary reason for and benefit of high tunnels in Kansas is the ability to micro-manage the growing climate, “ Rivard stated. “This provides greater production stability, which is a huge benefit for farmers in Kansas who face highly variable weather conditions. High tunnels provide protection from frost, wind, thermal stress, storm damage, disease, and even some protection against heat if shade cloths and ventilation are used effectively.”

High tunnels, he also explained, extend the growing season by about 30 days on either end, opening access to new markets such as restaurants, schools, and grocery stores.

Rivard outlined different types of high tunnels that are available as kits and discussed potential upgrades to the basic structure, such as plumbing, heat, electricity, insulation, and automation. Rivard said that although these options aren’t necessary and can be expensive, they do make high tunnel management a lot easier.

“The most important part of the high tunnel construction process is setting the footings with absolute precision,” Rivard stressed. The degree of accuracy with which the footings are placed, Rivard cautioned, will determine the ease and relative success of the rest of the building process. 

The high tunnel provides protection for earlier crops. Above lettuce, spinach and cover crops  thrive in mid- March at the Moon on the Meadow Farm .

“High tunnels should be oriented 90 degrees to the prevailing wind in order to promote ventilation during the summer months, and should be placed over the highest quality soil on the farm in order to maximize returns on the investment,” Rivard stated. This point was stressed a number of times throughout the farm tour and workshop because a high tunnel is a significant investment at the outset. Planting high-value crops is another strategy for recouping the cost of the high tunnel.

Rivard discussed a number of crops that thrive in high tunnels and make good economic sense: cut flowers; small fruits such as raspberries, strawberries, and melons; and high-value vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, cucumbers, peppers, onion transplants, and tomatoes. Rivard said tomatoes are the most popular crop grown in high tunnels and that heirloom varieties are easier to grow in a high tunnel than outside because the climate and moisture control inside the high tunnel reduces cracking.

A panel of five farmers who use high tunnels in their farming operations also talked about their experiences building and managing high tunnels. Dan Nagengast, from Wild Onion Farm outside of Lawrence, has been utilizing high tunnels in a variety of ways for 10 years and has had as many as four, 20’ x 96’ high tunnels in operation at once.

Stephanie Thomas and Thomas Maiorana, from Spring Creek Farm outside of Baldwin City, have four high tunnels that range in size and method of construction, including one built using reclaimed rebar that was bent into the “hoop” shape on-site.

Dan and Mary Howell, from Howell Farms outside of Frankfort in Marshall County are new to high tunnel production. They built theirs in April 2011 through the USDA NRCS EQIP Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative program. Dan Howell joked that he and Mary had a lot of information on what not to do, but in fact, their contribution to the discussion as first year high tunnel producers contained valuable information for others interested in getting started.

One thing the Howells lamented was not having a shade cloth for their high tunnel last summer, considering what a scorcher the summer turned out to be. Thomas said that she and Maiorana had not used shade cloths at first but do now, and that the difference is “incredible”. Nagengast said he also uses shade cloths and highly recommends them.

Nagengast and Thomas reiterated Rivard’s statement that “adding a high tunnel makes the ground under it the most valuable piece of real estate on the farm”, so special attention should be paid to what is planted in the high tunnel. Nagengast commented that if you plant accordingly, recouping the investment happens very quickly.

All the farmers agreed that there is a growing demand for fresh, local food and that high tunnels offer a means to help fill this demand, and also offer an entry point into farming, or an additional enterprise on an existing farm.
    Joanna Voigt is a free lance writer living near Lawrence.


A Mother’s Day Salute to A Different Viewpoint 

by Mary Fund

The summer after my father died some 34 years ago, I began sharing in the management of the farm. My mother, who had been a full farming partner was one of the most capable women I knew. She had by necessity become a pretty fair farm mechanic, milked cows twice a day for over 30 years, and had bucked bales --back when all hay bales were small and to the detriment of her back in later years. She dealt with bankers and bills, and cranky cows and sick calves. All of these were just part of the day to day necessities, but when it came time to visit the NRCS office to discuss needed conservation work, she was a bit hesitant. So I tagged along.

We studied the maps with our DC (district conservationist) and listened as he outlined where the terraces and new waterways would go. “These trees here,” he explained pointing to the woody draw in the map, “would come out so the waterway can be extended to the neighbor’s fenceline.”

We were horrified. That draw was home to a wild raspberry patch that, along with several others on the farm, had once provided us with 40 quarts of wild raspberries in one season. My mother and I objected. The terraces and waterways were built but the woody draw remains yet today—home to wild raspberries, morel mushrooms, and wildlife.

Women, I think, understand the landscape in a way few men feel they can afford to. It is not because we are uneducated or impractical, or that we don’t understand “real farming.” But my experience talking with women is that we see the farm in terms of relationships, in terms of family, and in terms of preserving a place for our children and grandchildren.

Many farmers and ag economists today would scoff at my mother and I’s “romantic” view of keeping that wild place in tact. With crop prices high and dollar signs in their eyes, many farmers are bulldozing these areas out so they can plant row crops. Grassy field borders disappear, and corn and soybeans reach not just from fence row to fence row, but from roadside ditch to roadside ditch.

But reservoirs fill with sediment. Ag chemicals are found in water supplies. Soil quality suffers from monoculture practices and an endless soup of chemicals. A stunning degree of biodiversity is lost. And we see farmers becoming an endangered species, as our young cannot afford to or do not want to replace us on the land.

Maybe a different viewpoint is needed.

I recently attended a local women and agriculture program. Women farmers are a fast growing segment of production agriculture, and women landowners own half of all farm land. With the largest growing segment of farmers being men in the over 65-age range, women will potentially be the owner/managers of more. The program was filled with wonderful information and advice.

One of the young women presenters talked about women’s roles and contributions to agriculture in terms of being the teachers, the insurance agents, the clerks at FSA and NRCS, and at co-ops, and yes as farmers in the field and in the barn. Another presenter recounted how a farmer came into the local conservation district office and said he wanted to plant some buffer strips. Why? Because his wife had told him “we are planting buffer strips!”

To that impressive list of ways women contribute to agriculture, I would like to add that maybe our most important role is to act as the conscience for our farms. It is not called Mother Earth for no reason.

Yes, a few more feet of cropland would make more money—at least this year or under these prices. But what are the costs? And what happens next year or under drought? Or a drop in price? What happens to our farms and our family histories and our children’s futures when we commodify everything- and lose it all in a profit taking gamble?

KRC also held a women and agriculture meeting recently. It was a small group who spent more time doing the talking than being talked at. We discussed conservation programs and practices, and farm experiences. But we also talked relationships. We talked values. We talked about the future. The number one issue for all of us was our connection to the land and what we would pass on to our children and grandchildren—and not one was talking about the value of an acre of cropland. Whether it be stories of hard work at harvest time, checking first calf heifers late at night, or eating that first ripe strawberry in the spring, this was the human or family face of agriculture.

Women are proving on a daily basis that we are not simply an auxiliary for the status quo. We can ask questions. We can do our homework. We can make informed management decisions. We can challenge a model that says “it ain’t done that way” or says we are being sentimental or romanticizing life on the farm. As the demographic shifts toward more women managing the land, we just may see a swing toward a more earth and family friendly model-- one that can also “feed the world”.

For the record, picking wild raspberries on a hot humid summer day in Kansas with hard biting ants crawling up your pant legs, and competing with skunks and raccoons (who both like raspberries a lot!) is definitely not a “romantic” exercise or for the faint of heart. But on my farm, it is an important connection between the land, nature, and my family.

Happy belated Earth Day and Happy Mothers Day to all you women farmers and want –to- be farmers!



Thanks to outgoing KRC board members... and welcome to new! 

The Kansas Rural Center held its winter board meeting on Saturday March 10 at the Hide Out Hunting Lodge, near Reading, Ks. Four board members whose terms were up were thanked for their years of service and commitment to KRC. These included Julie Elfving, Olathe; Nancy Vogelsberg-Busch, Home City; Dale Strickler, Jamestown; and Sherrie Mahoney, Salina. Two more had resigned due to other obligations: Scott Allegrucci, Lawrence, and Herb Bartel, Hillsboro. All will be missed, although all will be tapped on occasion for continued advice, insight, and wisdom.

Six new board members were added: Hilary Brown, Lawrence, (who is filling out a term for resigning Scott Allegrucci); Ben Champion, Manhattan; David Coltrain, Washington; William Justice, Salina; Troy Schroeder, Albert; and Gary Weisenberger, Lebanon. They represent a wide range of food and farming knowledge and experience from local food entrepreneurs, Extension, wildlife and conservation, organic farming and sustainability issues overall.

KRC also elected 2012 officers: Laura Fortmeyer, Fairview, and Marjorie Van Buren, Topeka, as co-presidents; Rodger Schneider, Salina, Vice-President; Wayne White, Oskaloosa, Treasurer. Donn Teske and Paul Ingle also join the officers serving on KRC’s Executive Committee.

Thanks and Best Wishes to Mercedes Taylor-Puckett 

KRC extends best wishes and good luck in future endeavors to Mercedes Taylor-Puckett, the Our Local Food Project Coordinator who left KRC in April. Mercedes joined KRC in late 2008 and was instrumental in developing KRC’s local and regional food system project.


State Veto Session Begins 

by Paul Johnson 

The Kansas Legislative veto session that began April 25 will be historic for Kansas. Tough decisions will have to be reached whether to restore critical budget cuts to public education, social services and public safety. Revenues to the state have increased, but the legislature will decide whether to implement tax policy to reduce revenue thus having substantial budgetary implications for the future.

In addition, the largest health program in Kansas-- Medicaid-- is destined to be privatized and turned over to three managed care services. Legislative and Congressional districts in Kansas must be redrawn reflecting the movement of persons from rural to urban areas amidst a battle over protecting moderate versus conservative interests. All of these decisions will have significant impact on future quality of life in the state.

The budget picture is starting to take shape, but there are many key differences to be settled. Will additional funds be provided for public education to increase base student aid per pupil (BSAPP)? (Note: BSAPP in 2009 was $4,400 - in 2012 it is $3,780) State hospitals are severely understaffed and at risk of losing their accreditation. Will additional funds be provided for hiring more staff and increasing salaries to attract more workers?

The tobacco settlement payment of $56 million has now been received. This money is used for several children programs but the Governor's budget assumed only $40 million. Will the full $56 million now be used for the children programs?

With an increase of revenue to Kansas of $252 million over the next 18 months, the Governor's budget now has an ending balance of $673 million. With that extra revenue in the ending balance, the tax battle will be more spirited than ever. Is there an easier sell in an election year than to enact more tax cuts without a plan for funding basic programs in the future?

With the extra revenue, it will be possible to enact tax reductions for 2013 and take that from the ending balance without doing further damage to existing governmental services. (Note: if the extra revenues go for income tax cuts, there will be far fewer dollars for restoring existing budget cuts or providing local governments meaningful property tax relief.)

Beyond 2013, revenues start to decline exponentially. The Senate tax bill income tax reduction jumps from $250 million in 2013 to $847 million in 2014 and the total 5-year reduction is $3.8 Billion. The House tax bill does not decrease income taxes nearly as fast as the Senate's tax bill but the House has a 3% growth lid on state spending. If there is further growth in tax revenues to the State beyond the 3%, than income tax rates are decreased even faster. (For the record, the Consensus Revenue experts on April 13 projected for 2013 a 5.6% growth in individual income taxes and a 5% growth in sales tax.)

This is truly a faith-based tax policy believing that just cutting or eliminating income taxes will automatically generate far more economic development and significant increases in sales tax. Once the income tax is reduced or eliminated, there is little chance to restore these cuts. Kansas appears well on the road to reduced quality of life if the Governor’s gamble for increased economic development does not pan out. Paul Johnson monitors the Kansas State Legislature for KRC.

SEE the Kansas Rural Center's website for back issues of our Weekly Updates 


Senate Agriculture Committee Marks Up 2012 Farm Bill 

by Mary Fund 

Debate on the 2012 Farm Bill has begun in earnest as this is written. On April 20, the Senate Agriculture Committee released its draft of the 2012 Farm Bill. The Committee began mark-up on April 26. The House Agriculture Committee has also scheduled a list of eight Farm Bill hearings, although speculation is that it will be the Senate version that is ultimately voted on.

The summary of the draft that Chairwoman Sen. Stabenow (D-MI) released, states that the bill achieves $23 billion in savings, which matches the Committee's proposal for the Super Committee last fall. Chair-woman Stabenow appears to be trying to stick to her goal of getting a bill out of committee and to the Senate Floor by Memorial Day.

Stabenow's summary stated that the draft "eliminates direct payments while strengthening risk management, consolidates and streamlines programs (about 23 existing conservation pro-grams are consolidated into 13 pro-grams), improves program integrity and accountability (although in the summary this appears to apply primarily to the nutrition programs and not commodity programs), and grows America's agricultural economy (the summary appears to focus on bio-based manufacturing).

While the Senate is moving forward, the House situation is more complex. On Wednesday, April 18, the House Agriculture Committee passed a budget reconciliation bill on a partisan vote that proposes to cut $33.2 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over ten years- a move that ensures strong debate from food and hunger circles and urban representatives.

The House Budget Committee had directed the House Agriculture Committee to cut $33.2 billion over ten years as part of the Fiscal 2013 budget resolution. The House budget resolution assumed cuts in commodity subsidies and others, but the Agriculture Committee chose to take the entire $33.2 billion from SNAP, the nutrition assistance program that serves millions of Americans who have fallen on hard times.

The budget resolution is regarded as a formality that must be dealt with before the Agriculture Committee can move on to serious discussion of the farm bill; it is NOT expected to become law as the Senate has made it clear they will not take up budget reconciliation bills from the House.

However, such a highly charged political action by the House Agriculture Committee, leads to speculation as to how serious they are about getting a Farm Bill passed.

The status of the Farm Bill developments will change from day to day during the next two weeks. For up to date information go to the national Sustainable Agriculture website at


Sam Sanders, left, and Reno County County Conservation
District staff explain Sam's alternative watering system
to the women who participated in the pilot workshop
of the Women Caring for the Land Project.

Women Caring for The Land: Education Program Launched for Women Landowners 

     By Mary Fund  

On March 30, a small group of women gathered to exchange stories about their connections to the land, their farms, and their families. They did something their male counterparts would likely never consider. They talked relationships. They talked values. They talked the past and the future. And they talked about their intense connections to the land.

The group of seven women ranging in age from mid-30’s to late 80’s were part of a pilot group helping the Kansas Rural Center and the Cheney Lake Water Quality Project test drive a format for future meetings. Called a learning circle, the informal approach encouraged the women to share stories as they also asked questions, identified challenges and topics for future study, and learned about conservation needs and practices.

The Kansas Rural Center is part of a multi-state program with the Center For Rural Affairs in Nebraska and the Women Food and Agriculture Net-work in Iowa. The program’s purpose is to develop materials and oppor-tunities for women non-operator farmland landowners to learn about USDA conservation programs and conservation practices so they can make better management decisions.

According to research, women landowners own about half of Mid-west farmland acres, and make up about half of farmland owners. The American Farmland Trust estimates that about 70% of America’s farmland will change hands over the next twenty years. Much of that will end up under the control of women, who will have a wide ranging degree of management experience.

Many women non-operating farmland owners, according to Iowa State University research, are insecure about their decision making abilities. This applies to both younger and older women who have not been actively engaged in the operation of the farm. Due to death of a spouse or parent, they find themselves suddenly in charge of landlord-tenant farmer negotiations and decisions about land management.
Typical educational meetings feature classroom lecture style presentations, and often women are not comfortable attending, or asking questions if they do. The learning circle format at the March 30 meeting in Partridge, Ks. was designed to make everyone comfortable as well as to educate. Participants included widows, a young farm woman with small children, a daughter recently moved back to the area to help her elderly father manage his farm and affairs, and retired women whose husbands still do the primary management, but who recognize the need for more information on land management and conservation.

“I was hesitant to come,” noted one woman, “But I am so glad I did!” The women were also quick to list topics for further study: leasing information—pasture, oil and gas, and hunting; no till practices; river conservation; estate planning; elder care in rural communities, and more.

Hands-on activities showed soil erosion under varying crop residue scenarios and soil types, and a quality of life planning session engaged the women in an exercise they could continue at home.

A van rented for the afternoon two-hour tour took participants to the farms of Sig Collins and Sam Sanders where the women could see former CRP land now being pastured, alternative watering systems- one with a solar pump and the other a tire tank installation, as well as no -till fields rotation.

Reno County District Conservationist Robert Wimer and his soil technician Ben Allen and Cheney Lake Watershed field staffer Howard Miller also attended the tour and offered information on conservation practices and cost-share and planning programs.

KRC and Cheney Lake Water Quality Project will hold at least two more learning circle sets of workshops within the Cheney Watershed by the end of the year. From these the women will identify single topic workshops for more in depth workshops or presen-tations at additional meetings.

In addition to providing educational opportunities directly to women, the project hopes to pass on materials and a process for working with the growing demographic of women farmland owners to other organizations and agencies who work with conservation programs.

.The project is currently working in Cheney Lake Watershed this year, but inquiries from other areas of the state are welcome as we explore the need for and interest in the project. For more information contact Lisa French at 620-669-8161, or Mary Fund at 785-873-3431, or


Meet Brandi Swiler: New Southeast OLF Chapter Coordinator

Welcome to Brandi Swiler, the new Southeast Kansas Chapter Coordinator for the KRC's Our Local Food program. The Southeast region encompasses 12 counties - from Franklin and Miami in the north to Labette and Cherokee in the south, and west to Wilson and Montgomery counties

Brandi works with See-Kan Resource Conservation and Development Inc., a non-profit administering a variety of programs in 11 counties in the Southeast Region, ranging from mining reclamation to water management to feeding the hungry. Brandi's interest in rural economic development meshes tightly with the aims of the Our Local Food program.

Brandi attended public schools in Chanute and earned a BA from Ottawa University. She lives with her husband Richard and their two children in Thayer, Kansas.

Savor the Season Cost-Shares and Mini-Grants Announced

Sixteen farmers markets in Kansas (listed below), received funding for Savor the Season (StS) promotional events in 2012. Awards ranged from $155 to $400 for a total of $4,100, with $8,700 committed in matching funds by participating markets. 

The purpose of the Savor the Season program (StS) is to increase the production and sales of non-com-modity crops in Kansas. The StS Cost-Share and Mini-Grants will help to fund educational events and pro-motions held at farmers markets throughout the State. These events are designed to expose consumers to the broad variety of food and horticultural crops produced by Kansas growers.

The following markets are recipients of the 2012 mini-grants and cost-share grants: Allen County, Atchison, Basehor, Cottin's Hardware, Delano Community, Emporia, Glasco,Inde-pendence Downtown, KCK Green Market: Catholic Charities, KCK Green Market: Strawberry Hill, Leavenworth, Marysville, Normandie, Oberlin, Paola, and Rosedale.

The Savor the Season program is funded by a USDA Specialty Crop Grant through a sub-award from the Kansas Department of Agriculture. 

Our Local Food Website Breaks Ground 

So many factors influence the germination of a seed, and the germination of a website is no different. Its fitting that Our Local Food is working with Sprout Design on a new website project, for indeed and at last, the site has sprouted.

On April 2nd, opened for the registration of Kansas farmers markets. An announcement was sent [via Constant Contact] to 95 farmers markets across the state, and as of Friday, April 6, eight markets had registered. As with any opening, there are always a few glitches, but overall the site is off to a good start.

The next step is the registration of food businesses--grocers, restaurants, processors, retailers and wholesalers--followed by producers and farms. After that, the consumers, our Vocal Locals, join in.

Eventually, the website will develop into an online food hub, linking producers, markets, businesses and consumers, and providing producer and business profiles, local news and stories, event listings, recipes and educational resources and links.

While the new site is still being built, you can also visit the current website at http://www.ourlocal for plenty of information about the OLF chapters and local food in Kansas.

May 1, 2012


The Circle of Farming: 

Cover Crops a Good Step Toward Soil Health

By Tom Parker

Gail Fuller, center, explains his use of cover crops
 at a March tour on his farm near Emporia.

Emporia farmer Gail Fuller’s advice for ranchers and farmers seeking to improve air, water and soil quality while increasing crop yield, livestock health and financial investments is simple: take a hike.

It wasn’t just a figure of speech. By walking through native grassland, along perennial creeks or through dense woodlands, Fuller said, one can see that Mother Nature abhors a vacuum, or, more specifically, a monoculture. That intensive mass of diverse vegetation aboveground and an equally diverse biomass below form an intimately interconnected web at once independent and dependent on the whole.

Farmers can do no better than to replicate nature, he said.

Fuller spoke at the 2012 Agriculture and Conservation Expo held March 12 in Horton. Calling it ‘farming in nature’s image,’ Fuller’s approach is based on holistic principles, incor-porating the extensive use of cover crops, mob livestock grazing and rapid feeding site rotation. “We have to look at everything as whole,” he said. “Above ground and below ground. It’s all got to come together. And no-- holistic isn’t a hippie word.”

To farm holistically is to farm biologically, he said. It involves increasing organic matter in the soil through the use of cover crops. Benefits are almost immediate and take on a life of their own—literally.

“You start ramping up your biological life in the soil,” Fuller said. “The more life in the soil, the more it consumes, so the more biomass you have to grow above the ground to feed the biomass below. It’s a circle of farming.”

It also necessitates a change in management style and a different way of looking at farming practices. It’s no longer enough to look at short-term effects; a long-term approach is needed to ensure long-term viability. “Everything I do affects something else,” he said. “We no longer look at a cropping plan as just corn and soybeans. We look at it as how this cropping plan will affect this year’s crop, next year’s crop, how it’s going to affect the wildlife, the livestock—there are so many different things to address, and with cover crops we’re addressing them all. We’re recycling nutrients, we’re improving water infiltration, we’re feeding wildlife and livestock at the same time.”

Fuller continues to experiment with various cover crops, but has at one time or another planted oats, barley, triticale, orchard grass, lupin, cosmos, safflower, mustard, rape, sunn hemp, vetch and others, usually in a cocktail mixing warm and cool season species. His mantra—“When you plant things together, it brings the soil to life”—relies on crop diversity to not only enrich the soil but to anchor it. In many ways, he’s trying to make his crops emulate native grassland. The more biomass, the more water will soak in. Increasing organic matter in the soil from one to three percent doubles the soil’s water-holding capacity, Fuller said.

If there’s one lesson to derive from last year’s drought, which was severe in Fuller’s area, it’s this: “The last thing to burn up in a drought is the prairie,” he said. Cover crops also reduce erosion, which was one reason he got into cover crops in the first place.

For livestock, Fuller takes another tip from Mother Nature: replicating the grazing practices of bison from pre-settlement days. At one time, 60 million bison roamed the Great Plains. The numbers were staggering; nor were they alone—cougars, elk, deer, coyotes, wolves, all accompanied the great herd. Grazing was intense followed by months of rest, giving the land time to heal. More grazing and less confinement are key ingredients to healthy pasture and healthy livestock, Fuller said.

He calls the method “mob grazing,” and like with cover crops, its practice has evolved through trial and error. Experiments showed that by moving 66 head of cattle once a day across one paddock and in tighter concentrations three times per day across another paddock, the grass in the latter was eight inches higher the following spring than in the former paddock.

“In one mob graze, we got 50 percent more production,” he said. “We increased our efficiency in the fall, we increased our production in the spring. We’re kick starting the soil life so fast there. Remember, 90 percent of what goes in a cow’s mouth comes out the other end. We’re recycling nutrients and minerals.” Some have asked about trampling. Compaction is caused by time, not pounds, he stressed, and can be easily alleviated by frequent rotations.

When taken as a whole, livestock is the last piece of the puzzle, what holds it all together, he said. There are, he admitted, alternatives. Farmers can do it as they have for generations, using herbicides and pesticides and confining cattle for winter feeding, but statistics show how that turned out.

“Is the same-old good enough?” he asked. “We’ve lost 40 percent of our topsoil and lose another five -and-a-half tons per acre annually, mostly due to bad farming practices. If we don’t change, our grandkids will have to find a way to farm rock.”

Farming holistically, the way Mother Nature intended, doesn’t take much more work or cost, he said, but it does involve a change in mindset. “It’s almost like having to relearn how to farm,” he said. “But we’re not reinventing the wheel, we’re relearning how our grandfathers and our great-grandfathers farmed.”

The Agriculture and Conservation Expo is an annual event hosted by the Delaware WRAPS and the Glacial Hills Resource Conservation and Development Region. Funding was provided in part by the EPA 319 Clean Water Act, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and the Brown County and Jackson County Conservation Districts, and the Kansas Rural Center (KRC). The event featured presentations on livestock watering options by Will Boyer, KSU Watershed Specialist, and a panel of local farmers (Ed Reznicek, moderator, KRC; Dale Strickler, Jamestown; Steve Aberle, Sabetha; and Henry Hill, Holton) discussing their experiences with cover crops. The Expo also featured a dozen natural resource exhibitors.

The Delaware WRAPS works with local watershed residents and landowners to promote the implemen-tation of water “friendly” practices like no- till and the use of cover crops in rotations and improved livestock waste management practices in the Delaware Watershed. For more information about the cover crop incentive program or watershed issues contact the Delaware River WRAPS program at 785-284-3422.


Horizontal Drilling and Road Damage Described in
Harper County

The April 2012 Kansas Association of County's “County Comment” news-letter included a short article written by Norm Bowers, Local Road Engineer. It describes a visit to Harper County to see four horizontal drilling rigs at one site. Oil and gas drilling permits are handled through the state, and the county was not notified in advance. This drilling site consists of a level area of about 4 acres. Two to three feet of shale is hauled in and topped with one foot of crushed rock. 1,200 semi loads were required.

The 'fracking' takes about 2 million gallons of water which is the equivalent of 300 tanker loads. It takes over 2,000 truckloads of material and equipment for one drilling site. There are few county roads that can handle 2,000 truckloads without substantial damage.

Harper County has taken the position that they will not fix or repair roads so the drilling companies can get to their sites. That works well where the road is not a school bus route and people do not live on the mile. If drilling occurs in counties with a blacktop road network, they can expect damage to the blacktops.

In Harper County most of the water has been purchased from farm ponds. Harper County has allowed the drilling company to place pipe in the road ditch for a fee. The county has just hired a codes enforcement officer to handle all the utility permits and to observe and document damage to the roads. Mr. Bowers ends the article with essential steps that should be taken in advance by a county. For more, go to:

Insect Experts Issue Warnings About GM Corn

Twenty-two scientists recently sent the U.S. EPA a letter warning of problems resulting from the Western corn rootworm becoming resistant to the Cry3Bb1 protein in genetically modified corn. The scientists recom-mended a system of integrated pest management- including planting non-GMO corn- as a way to address the resistance problem. 

Discoveries of corn rootworm resistance problems were first published in 2011 in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota, and North and South Dakota.Several reasons for the resistance are cited including farmers planting Bt corn year after year, inadequate refuge areas of non-GMO corn to prevent resistance, and planting Bt corn where there is no insect pressure.

The scientists wrote that it is not possible to rely on one single method of pest control in the long term. They recommended that farmers plant non-GMO corn varieties as part of a system of integrated pest management that includes crop rotations. However, they also reported that many farmers have increasing difficulty obtaining non-GMO seed for planting.  (From: Non-GMO Reporter April 2012)


  EQIP Organic Initiative June 1 Deadline

June 1, 2012, is this year’s  remaining ranking deadlines for  the EQIP Organic Initiative.   After the June deadline, you will have to wait until 2013. NRCS accepts applications to this (and other) programs throughout the year, but the ranking dates help producers know when their application is being considered, and when and if approved, as NRCS will begin work on contracts once selections are made.

   EQIP Organic Initiative: NRCS helps certified organic growers and producers
working to achieve organic certification install conservation practices for organic production. Existing organic producers with conservation needs can visit with their local NRCS office to see what practices and financial assistance is available to  improve their crop and/or livestock operations. Those wishing to transition to organic production can find assistance to adopt conservation practices such as conservation crop rotations, cover crops, nutrient management, and others that will help them make the transition.

 While funds for the EQIP Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative are expended for this year, producers can apply for next year’s funds at any time. NRCS helps producers plan and implement high tunnels, which are steel-framed, polyethylene-covered structures that extend growing  seasons for vegetables and fruits. Unlike past years in Kansas, this initiative is no longer limited to organic or transitioning organic producers, but is open to ALL producers.  Farmers interested  should check out the program at their local NRCS office.   You can also apply for seasonal high tunnels as part of the Organic Initiative if you plan on  seeking organic certification.

    In Kansas, initially farmers had to apply under the Organic Initiative for the seasonal high tunnel practice, so the majority of the approximately 120 Organic Initiative applications approved in Kansas to date were directed to seasonal high tunnels. But now producers can opt for the seasonal high tunnel initiative without having to pursue organic certification.

  Visit your local County NRCS office for more information.

Agroforestry, Water, and Wildlife Field Day May 10  

   On Thursday, May 10, 8 a.m.—2:30 p.m., the Kansas Forest Service will join a host of other partners to present the 2012 Agroforestry, Water, and Wildlife Field Day. The event features outdoor educational sessions to help Kansas landowners successfully manage their woodlands, wildlife, and farming operations in ways that simultaneously protect and improve the quality of water in their streams and ponds. 

  The event will be held at the Flat Rock Ranch in southeast Kansas near Hamilton. Located about 40 miles south of Emporia and 70 miles east-northeast of Wichita, the 3,000-acre ranch provides tremendous hunting, fishing, and bird/wildlife watching opportunities, while also producing beef cattle, soybeans, and corn. 

   Educational sessions will include: Proper tree planting and establishment methods; Limiting Cattle Access to Ponds; Oak Savannah Management; Quail Habitat Management; Quality Food Plots for Deer; and Managing Transition Zones between crops and woodlands.

   A lunch of hamburgers with a variety of side dishes will be grilled on-site by Frontier Farm Credit and refreshments will be provided in the morning.  A $10 registration fee is required for participants and will help cover the cost of lunch, refreshments, and other expenses.  The registration deadline is Monday, May 7.  To register or for additional information call the Kansas Forest Service at 785-532-3300 or e-mail Bob Atchison, at atchison@  

Food Safety Classes Offered

The Kansas Dept. of Agriculture will host regional food safety handling classes in May. The 90-minute programs are free and  open to all, from the home cook or volunteers who prepare food for church events to full-service restaurants and other food service establishments. Attendees will learn about cooking and cooling foods, hand washing and hygiene.

May 7, Hays - 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. at the Hays Recreation Commission (1105 Canterbury Hays, KS). Contact the Ellis County Extension office at 785-628-9430 to RSVP.

May 7, Parsons- 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. at the Parsons City Municipal Building (112 S. Main, Parsons, KS). Contact Barbara Ames with the Wildcat Extension District Mont-gomery County at 620-331-2690 to RSVP.

May 9 Dodge City - 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. at the Ford County Jail meeting room (11311 E. Comanche St., Dodge City, KS). Contact the Ford County Extension office at 620-227-4542 to RSVP.

May 14 Emporia - 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. at the Lyon County Extension Service building (2632 W. Hwy. 50, Emporia, KS). Contact Rhonda Gordon with Lyon County Extension at 620-341-3220 to RSVP.

For more information, contact:
Chelsea Good at  (785) 296-2653 (office) of

Save the Date!

Summer Grazing Workshops with Jim Gerrish

          August 13-14, 2012     Topeka, Ks.

          August 15-16, 2012      Hays Ks.

Jim Gerrish, nationally known grazing expert will return to Kansas for two 2-day workshops. These workshops will NOT be a repeat of last summer’s workshops, but will offer quick refresher material and then cover the following topics in more depth:

Grazing management
Sustainable Grazing and ranching
Livestock management
Extending the grazing season
Grazing cell design and tools
Pasture monitoring

Check the KRC website :