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#Fridaysonthefarm: Demonstration Farms Implement Conservation Practices

#Fridaysonthefarm: Demonstration Farms Implement Conservation Practices CoverStory by Deb Berger and Dianne Johnson, NRCS Ohio; photos by NRCS

Each Friday, meet farmers, producers and landowners through our #Fridaysonthefarm stories. Visit local farms, ranches, forests and resource areas where NRCS and partners help people help the land.  CLICK HERE to view all #Fridaysonthefarmstories.

This Friday, we meet three families in the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network in Ohio.  The Stateler Farms, Kurt Farm and Kellogg Farms are proactively applying a combination of innovative and standard conservation practices in the Western Lake Erie Basin where the reduction of phosphorus and sediment can greatly impact the waters of Lake Erie.

#Fridaysonthefarm: Demonstration Farms Implement Conservation Practices Map


Western Lake Erie Basin

“Everyone lives in a watershed…We all contribute to the problems and we have to solve them together.” -Terry Cosby, Ohio NRCS State Conservationist

Lake Erie - part of the Great Lakes System - contains 20 percent of all the freshwater in the world and provides drinking water for 11 million people.

The drainage basin of the western portion of Lake Erie covers a vast area of seven million acres or about 11,000 square miles. Agriculture, an important part of the landscape and economy of the Western Lake Erie Basin, occurs on almost 4.9 million acres - 70 percent of the acreage in the area. 

Maintaining a vibrant agricultural industry and well-managed natural resources on working lands is vital not only for the communities in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, but ultimately for the health of the waters of Lake Erie itself.

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The 2007 Census of Agriculture reports that the value of agricultural sales in the basin was nearly $3 billion, primarily from crop production. 

Even though farmers are using conservation practices to a significant degree across the basin—99 percent of cropland acres have at least one conservation practice in use—a significant portion of the phosphorous that is contributing to the harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie originates from surface and subsurface losses of commercial and organic fertilizer applied to agricultural land.

While no single approach will eliminate nutrient loading to Lake Erie, conservation practices applied using a systems approach will reduce surface and subsurface nutrient losses.

Demonstration Farms

The Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network is a five-year project between the NRCS and the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation established to demonstrate the ways in which multiple on-farm conservation practices improve water and nutrient conservation. 

Meet three farm families - the current demonstration farms - that are testing conservation practices on their farms to improve water quality: Stateler Farms, Kurt Farm and Kellogg Farms.

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From left: Chris Kurt of Kurt Farm; Bill and Shane Kellogg  of Kellogg Family Farms; and Duane and Anthony Stateler of Stateler Farms.

Two out of three demonstration farms have implemented an Edge of Field monitoring site - a water quality measuring system - managed by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS). Excess phosphorous is a key factor influencing the health of Lake Erie, and this monitoring will help better understand the impact conservation practices have in reducing direct losses of phosphorous from farm fields.

All farms also observe the "4-R Approach" - of applying the Right nutrients on their crop fields, at the Right rate and Right time during the growing season, in the Right location. 

Stateler Family Farms

Meet Anthony and Duane Stateler who own and operate Stateler Family Farms in McComb, Ohio.

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The Statelers grow corn, soybeans and wheat on approximately 500 acres and operate a 7,200 head wean-to-finish swine operation.  The family has committed 243 acres of the operation to the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network.

"The goal of this project is to get multiple ways to improve practices because every farm isn't the same," says Anthony. "We don't have the luxury of a one size fits all remedy." 

The Statelers utilize cover crops to reduce the effects of compaction caused by heavy duty equipment.

They completed an Animal Waste Mortality Structure that will allow for on-site composting of any swine carcasses to reduce odor, spread of disease and lessen the impact of non-point source pollution of surface and ground water. 

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See the structure from start to finish in a time-lapse video produced by the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.  CLICK HERE to view on YouTube.

And the family recently installed an ARS-designed Phosphorus Removal Bed where water from the crop field flows through perforated pipes and percolates through steel slag (pictured here) to remove phosphorus. The treated water eventually flows through additional manifold pipes beneath the slag layer and travels out the tile and into the drainage ditch. 

"Over the next two years we will be able to get some baseline numbers for where we are at and to be able to find out what nutrients we are losing, if any, and what practices can we improve on to better our nutrient management attempts," says Anthony.

About the family's participation in the demonstration project, he thinks that "it's important for the public to know that farmers all over the state are working on ways to improve water quality. I believe that our generation is going to have to be more proactive in letting the public know not only that we are doing something, but why.” 

Kurt Farm

Chris Kurt owns and operates Kurt Farm in Dunkirk, Ohio in Hardin County. 

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Chris has committed 168 acres of the family's 470 acre corn and soybean farm to the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network.

“My goal as part of the Demonstration Farms project is to become the most efficient farm manager that I can be while protecting our soil and water," according to Kurt. 

Chris worked with The Nature Conservancy and Hardin Soil and Water Conservation District to construct a two stage ditch on the demonstration farm site. The vegetative benches mimic natural channels to reduce sediment and nutrient loading downstream.

Working with NRCS and partners, Chris developed and installed a phosphorus removal bed. The phosphorus removal bed and edge of field monitoring station empty into the two stage ditch.

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Chris is transitioning to no-till corn after collecting baseline water quality data. Already, cover crops grown after soybean harvest add a blanket of vegetation and improve soil health. 

According to Chris, "the research behind the project will help farmers and the public learn more about which conservation practices work the best from an environmental and economic standpoint."

Kellogg Farms

Bill and Shane Kellogg own and operate Kellogg Farms in Forest, Ohio in Hardin County. 

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This father-son team has committed 305 acres of their farm to the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network. "We don’t feel we are trying to educate other producers, just sharing different practices we are trying," says Bill.

Bill and Shane recently purchased a subsurface nutrient placement tillage tool so they can strip-till on their 4,200 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat. They expect the savings in fertilizer costs will offset the equipment investment in a short period of time. 

“Strip tillage is a big part of what we are doing with our nutrient placement,” according to Bill. “We soil test and utilize variable rate technology as well, which makes the amount of fertilizer we put on about 33% more efficient than what we were doing before strip tillage."

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Promoting pollinators on some of the less productive crop acres is another new venture for the Kelloggs. “I never thought I would be planting milkweed on our farm,” says Bill, “and now I have bags of Little Bluestem and other prairie type seeds to establish.”

Better Together

"The Blanchard River Demonstration Farm Network allows agriculture to test, showcase and share conservation practices that allow farmers to write new chapters in a long history of stewardship for the land," says Adam Sharp, Executive Vice-President, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. "In Ohio, where water quality tops the mind for many, the partnership with NRCS allows us to tackle issues head-on.”  

CLICK HERE to learn more about the Western Lake Erie Basin and collaborative conservation efforts.


Follow the #Fridaysonthefarm and other voluntary conservation stories on @USDA_NRCS Twitter and @USDA Facebook. View the interactive ESRI storymap of this #Fridaysonthefarm feature.