Saluda County Farm Family Puts Conservation First
Yon Family Farms Protects 100 Acres of Grassland with Permanent Easement
by: Amy Maxwell, SC NRCS State Public Affairs Specialist
Yon Family Farms in Ridge Spring, South Carolina (Saluda County), is operated using a precise formula for farming success. The formula merges equal amounts of hard work, determination, an outstanding conservation ethic, and is balanced with a dose of fun and commitment to family. Kevin and Lydia are husband and wife of eighteen years and along with their kids Sally, Drake, and Corbin, they manage an Angus operation. Twice a year they host a bull sale, which attracts buyers from throughout the Southeast. Their website clearly states their mission to, “provide high quality, value-added cattle to satisfied customers who believe that honesty, quality, service, and value are synonymous with the name Yon Family Farms.”
The Yon’s have also demonstrated a commitment to conservation through their participation in a number of Farm Bill programs. From the Conservation Security Program (CSP), to the Forestry Incentives Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and most recently the Grassland Reserve Program (GRP), protection of natural resources is a priority at the Yon farm. They’ve worked closely with USDA-NRCS District Conservationist Hugh Smith to utilize financial and technical assistance to improve their operation. “The GRP easement is the icing on the cake for the Yon Farm because it means that the 100 acres included in the easement will be forever protected from development,” explained Smith.
The Yon’s manage nearly 1,500 acres which include cropland, hay, and pastureland. Through EQIP, they fenced out streams and installed many water troughs to protect water quality, ultimately protecting the South Fork Edisto Watershed in which the farm is located. They also installed cross-fencing and practice a 2-7 day rotational grazing plan. GRP helps landowners restore and protect grassland, including pastureland, while maintaining the areas as grazing lands. The program emphasizes support for grazing operations, plant and animal diversity, and grassland and land containing shrubs and forbs under the greatest threat of conversion. The Yon’s applied for funding in 2005, when GRP funding was available (South Carolina NRCS’ Congressional funding allotment for GRP has been exhausted). Smith said, “The process to apply for GRP funding was extremely competitive, and this is Saluda’s first GRP easement.” He also explained that because the farm is close to town, the threat of conversion is what helped the application rank so high. GRP applications are ranked according to factors such as grazing management, plant composition, proximity to other protected lands, and wildlife habitat. The program offers different options, include 30-year easements, or even a restoration agreement, but the Yon’s wanted to permanently protect this acreage. “Because we are serious about conservation, and particularly for the long-term, GRP was a good match for us,” explained Kevin. Lydia described the thought process that went into making the decision. “We sat the kids down and explained to them why we were considering the GRP easement, and then we asked them what they thought about it.” In the end, she said it was a unanimous family decision that they all felt good about. The Yon’s value the rural landscape and way of life, and GRP is one way to ensure that the scenery does not change, even as the threat of development creeps into rural areas.
Kevin Yon grew up in Anderson County, but surprisingly, not on a farm. “My grandparents owned a farm, and I spent lots of time there learning to appreciate the land.” When asked to describe a good day, the Yon’s don’t disagree. “A good day includes plenty of grass for the cattle, and not having to haul it to them. It’s a satisfying feeling to be able to turn the herd out to pasture and see them grazing on forage that you’ve provided for them naturally.” The Yon’s work tirelessly to ensure that their soil and water resources are healthy and they believe in whole-farm conservation, focusing on the big-picture when it comes to stewardship. “They have a solid understanding of the interdependence of natural resources, and their approach to conservation works,” said Smith. “Farming is not necessarily a lucrative profession—for us it was more of a lifestyle choice,” explained Kevin. “One reason we moved to Saluda was because it is a great place to raise kids,” said Lydia, whose father is a retired NRCS Field Engineer. “I’ve been exposed to the importance of conservation my whole life and I want to pass on that conservation ethic to the kids.”
As parents and role models, the Yon’s are teaching their children the importance of leadership as well. Their involvement in agricultural-based local, state, and national organizations and boards helps them stay informed and allows them to shape the future of agriculture in South Carolina. “Our relationship with fellow farmers and producers keeps us up-to-date with the latest technology, and sharing information and advice with others is helpful,” says Lydia. In addition, Kevin is an associate commissioner with the Saluda Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), so it’s no secret that the Yon’s are in a position to be leaders within the farming community. “To see a young family like this be involved, and so earnestly enthusiastic about making a living through agriculture, is encouraging. They embrace this way of life because they love it, and they really want to preserve and protect the environment for all the right reasons,” said Smith.
The Yon’s are a shining example of how GRP can protect more than just grasslands, but also help sustain a way of life that families like the Yon’s cherish. “Everyday on the farm is day of learning, and there is always something to look forward to each day here on the farm,” says Lydia. “We keep improving, and it's satisfying to see the results of our work.”