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Success Stories Row Crop Operation - Tom and Will Koenig | Ohio

Madison County
Row Crop Operation
Tom and Will Koenig

Tom and Will Koenig.Tom Koenig owns a well established farm operation in Madison County, Ohio, working nearly 5000 acres of row crops. His love of farming was instilled in his son Will, a young farmer who attended college to learn more about the farming business. While the Koneigs conduct a fairly traditional farming operation, their innovation and commitment to the environment is leading them down some interesting paths.

The Upper Scioto Watershed covers the area farmed by the Koenigs. In 2004, the Scioto Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) was launched in the watershed, providing funds for farmers to establish riparian buffers and filter strips using native grasses for water quality and wildlife benefits. With this development, the Koenigs saw not only the chance to enroll a portion of their property in the Scioto CREP, they saw the need for people to help plant the native grasses called for in the program.

The seeds of these native grasses pose a particular challenge for farmers at planting time. In response, the Koenigs developed a special drill with a customized gear to accommodate the native grass, whose seeds are fluffy and unable to separate in normal drills. The drill does not come without its headaches, however. A variation in the amount of seeds dispersed per acre calls for a change in the gears, a process that takes approximately two hours to complete before the seeding process even begins. Taking the time is necessary, but not everyone has the patience or equipment to work with native grass seed.

Word about the Koenig's success working with this difficult seed spread throughout the county and to neighboring counties also offering CREP. The Koenigs are now in demand for their planting expertise and equipment, and have seen a three fold increase in acreage for their custom planting business between 2006 and 2007. The pride both Tom and Will take in their innovation and services is evident as they demonstrate their equipment as they talk excitedly about the work they have done and explain, "He really enjoy this work. As we drive around the county we can see the areas we planted and how they are doing. There is even a plot people can see along I-70 (a highly traveled interstate highway)."

A drainage concern on a 300 acre drainage area encompassing one large field offered another opportunity for the Koenigs to apply conservation. Tom contacted the Natural Resources Conservation Service for assistance designing a system to manage the water that was impacting his field as well as an adjacent landowner's field. District Conservationist Dave Ferguson from the London Service Center came up with an non-conventional solution to this problem.

Ferguson (and his staff?) designed a waterway beginning at the highest point of Koenigs field. As the land slopes downward, Ferguson placed a five-acre wetland to capture runoff and retain sediment delivered by the waterway. Construction of the wetland was completed this year using the Scioto CREP and the services of Will Koenig, owner and operator of Koenig Watershed Management.

With an eye to the future and a keen awareness of the energy crisis facing farmers today, Will Koenig is applying the expertise gained in college to develop alternative energy sources for their farming operation. Biofuels offer a low cost, practical alternative to fossil fuels, and Will Koenig knows how to make it. Last winter, Will took sunflower seed grown on their farm and processed it to make fuel on demand. He says making biofuel from sunflower oil isn't hard to do, it requires a few chemicals and getting the oil from the seed. "The effect I have on people driving is pretty interesting," stated Koenig. "People start looking around for the french fries, but what they're smelling is the biofuel I'm burning in my truck!" The biofuel experiment has been so successful for the Koenigs, they plan to convert 25 acres previously planted to corn for sunflowers next year.

Koenig's farm. Tom and Will Koenig.