Carrying The Conservation Torch
Read ahead to find out how this family operation is improving the soil and doing all they can to protect water quality.
Two Effingham County sons carry on the family legacy on the farm and hog operation started by their father. Stanley Kuhns says they are taking good care of K.F. Farms. In fact, they are improving the soil even more and doing all they can to protect water quality.
K.F. Farms was established by Darrell and Jean Kuhns in 1960. After losing their father in 2012, sons Stan and Mike have not only maintained, but expanded the now 1,800 acres of row crops and the 220 sow farrow-to-finish business. They have taken conservation standards and management techniques to a higher level. No doubt, their parents would be proud.
Back in 1977, USDA Soil Conservation Service (SCS) teams initiated local efforts to reduce soil erosion on farmland that was negatively impacting creeks and waterbodies in the Little Wabash River watershed. Darrell Kuhns was instantly sold on the idea. He was a man who wanted to do the right thing and he pursued his goals with persistence and vigor. Darrell worked with SCS staff and engineers to install a terrace system on his most sloping ground and even took action to have aerial photos taken to create the topographic map needed for the job.
The conservation practice included more than 14,000 feet of parallel tile outlets designed to harness and hold water and sediment on a 200-acre field. Many neighboring farmers built similar structures on their own land. Darrell also contracted with SCS to install several grassed waterways with drop structures, planted vegetative filter strips along all his ditches, along with field borders. All this work demonstrated Kuhns’ commitment and legacy to reduce sediment loss and protect natural resources.
According to Stan and Mike, “Dad was in step with all the conservation and environmental trends back in the 1980’s. He went totally no-till on all our acres in 1994 and he never looked back.”
Whether you look through the Kuhns brothers’ paperwork, USDA maps, or aerial photographs, there is ample evidence of the family’s long-term commitment to soil and water conservation. The Kuhns family still works with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS, formerly SCS), the Farm Service Agency, and the Effingham County Soil and Water Conservation District to improve their land today. In 2016, K.F. Farms received the SWCD’s Farm Family of the Year Award recognizing decades of hard work.
The Kuhns have taken advantage of federal government programs, technical and financial assistance using the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Most of K.F. Farms’ fields have just 0 to 3 percent slopes but nearly all include strategically-placed 60’ field borders and grassed waterways. These practices successfully protect local creeks from runoff that carries sediment and excess Nitrogen or Phosphorus.
“And even though these soils have been no-tilled for 24 years, we decided six years ago that we could do more. So we added cover crops,” Stan explains. They joined the Soil Health Partnership effort and signed up for a seven year study.
The brothers don’t plant any crazy cover crop “cocktails” or seed mixes. They keep things simple. Their goal? To cover the ground during fall and winter months and to stop erosion. “We believe in cover crops,” Stan says. Especially after participating in a three-year DATU research case study that tracked real costs and savings with an in-depth look at the economics of conservation options. The study was done in 2014 with the National Association of Conservation Districts for a USDA-NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant. Data confirmed that nothing fancy or complicated is required to truly find savings.
“Yes, there are added expenses with no-till, like converting to no-till machinery costs and cover crop seeds. But what you save in hours on the tractors, fuel, time, fertilizer, and erosion-related repairs added to increased yields? It makes it all worthwhile,” Stan says.
Besides improving yields and organic matter levels in row crop fields, K.F. Farms used EQIP to make major improvements to their hog operation. Even before issues with the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy hit the news circuit, the Kuhns family made plans to upgrade their hog buildings and expand manure storage on the farm.
In 2010 they developed a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan to evaluate onsite issues, resource needs, and requirements. They decided to add two new finishing buildings, both with underground manure pits. They now have 18 months of onsite storage. The system includes manure pump, transfer capabilities, a waste recycling plan, improved ventilation, and a new compost mortality facility. Construction began in 2013.
“It took some time to complete all the NRCS engineering designs,” Stan said. “We sure wish Dad could have seen all these conservation improvements come together.” Stan did report that the original 5-year EQIP contract was finalized and paid out in just three years.
Both Stan and Mike love the composter. Using it saves them money instead of burning all that diesel fuel in the stinky incinerator. “We should have done the composter a long time ago!” Stan laughs.
Besides all the structural practices, Kuhns also planted pollinator habitat and 6.1 acres specifically developed for quail. The list of conservation solutions in the Kuhns system is impressive. If only every Illinois farmer could do as much.
When asked if EQIP incentives were a big help for K.F. Farms, Stan said “I was pleased with how well things turned out. Glad we had our local NRCS staff and District Conservationist to steer us through everything.” Both Kuhns brothers feel confident that USDA tax dollars were put to good use to improve nutrient management issues and further reduce soil erosion on the family farm.
To learn more about EQIP and to address resource issues on your farm, visit the Illinois EQIP page.