“People don’t think about where the food they’re eating is coming from when taking a bite,” said Patty Dellinger, district program coordinator of the Lincoln Soil and Water Conservation.
“They should stop and think — if it wasn’t for agriculture, I wouldn’t have this.”
The Lincoln Soil and Water Conservation District hosted its second Conservation Farm Tour on Thursday. A group of 30 participants, from Lincoln County Cooperative Extension agents and other officials to concerned citizens, got their sneakers dirty as they met their neighborhood farmers and learned about their techniques and what they do.
Two white vans, and a small parade of cars following closely behind traveled around western parts of the county to view local farms. Conservation Director Rick McSwain guided the patrons around the route and explained the economics behind farming, while also discussing conservation and why the two are important.
Tips learned along the way:
Determine what the property should be used for and the best management practices (bmp) to accomplish those goals.
Do the research — it will save money and the environment later; stay up to date with new technology and try new practices — it may pay off, literally.
The first stop on the trail, Cline Farms off Reepsville Road in Lincolnton, was changed from a once-farm to a wetland. Former-owner of the 25-acre property, Hayward Cline, was an animal enthusiast and left the area to his three daughters when he passed away.
In his honor, it was later partnered with the conservancy so that it would be protected.
Those interested in converting an area to a wetland have three options, District Conservationist Elton Barber explained. Ten-year cost-share agreements, 30-year agreements or permanent easements, like Cline’s now-wetland. The latter option is for owners who are not intending on doing anything more with the area. But the process can be lengthy, Barber warned, so be patient.
“What you are doing here is so important,” County Planning Board Member Tom Campbell said. “You’re capturing land for future generations.”
Conservation Farm Family of 2012, Robert and Lisa Kalmbacher, have been crafting how they use their land, too. Though they won’t be trading their cattle farm for more wetlands any time soon, the award-winning couple and have altered their property, the second stop of the tour, quite a bit since 2005.
Grace Farms, on Killian Road, spans 107 acres and offers diverse landscapes, from pastures to wooded areas and marshes.
Kalmbacher recommends using the most economical practices, to help keep local farms going – a crucial part of the local economy, he said. He avoids feeding the cattle hay as much as he can, because of the cost, and feeds them Bermuda and Eastern Gammagrasses to cut expenses.
The Conservation District has been working with the award-winning farm family since 2005, focusing on ways to decrease erosion through readjusting fencing to keep cattle out of water, and improving the access roads, which the couple use daily to travel to different parts of their land.
McSwain showed before and after pictures that impressed the audience with the transformations, and explained the Agriculture District Agreement – a way for the Conservation District to protect farmers.
“People are starting to want to leave the cities and move into the country,” McSwain said. “But once they’re in the country they start smelling country smells and don’t like it. This agreement protects the farmer. If someone wants to move within a half mile of the farm, they have to sign an agreement that lists certain things to expect, such as animal smells and the use of equipment. If they try to go back and sue later, this is may help.”
Another cattle farmer nearby, George “Chip” Sain of Valedale Angus Farm in Vale, has been trying his hand at crop growing in addition to raising beef.
Sain grew up in a farm family, and has been trying to improve the land to make it better than it was when it was passed along to him – a promise he made to his parents.
The new father was also a previous farm family winner, and just finished up his latest project with the Conservation District – building a stream crossing. The path took some time, Sain assured, but once McSwain and his team stepped in, they were able to create a path for cattle to cross the water without walking through it.
Though Sain is trying his hand with corn, there is still a profit to be made from the cows. Last year, cattle brought in over $16 million for the state, McSwain said.
Down the road at Wyant Farm, off Wyant Road in Vale, Jerry Wyant led the group through one of his newest additions to his property — a chemical storage unit he and the Conservation District built.
The building was designed to contain chemicals to prevent run off into local water bodies and on the farm. If there’s a (chemical) accident within that property, the substance won’t leave that building, McSwain and Wyant assured the on-lookers.
The team also created rock-lined channels and water ways in hopes of reducing erosion from the high velocity of water that was flowing through the property.
The veteran farmer showed participants a few of his new toys, mountain-high John Deer equipment, some costing as much as $102,000. Not a cheap profession, and one that requires changing with the technology if you want to stay in farming, Wyant explained.
Researching around and comparing prices will help cut corners and is worth the effort and learn to be able to do a little bit of everything, he said in regards to sometimes trying fix-it-yourself methods.
Tommy and Dan Houser, also row crop farmers, did work with waterways at their farm off Houser Farm Road in Vale, too. Blackberries, strawberries, and an array of vegetables can be found across the 400-acre stretch.
Field borders were constructed to make sure crops are away from the streams, with grass bumpers to help filter the area. The Housers, along with McSwain and his team, also changed from an overhead irrigation system to a drip line system, a decision that will decrease the amount of chemical run-off. The water from the system is no longer coming from the local stream, either, but is now used from a well.
The day in the sun wrapped up with a look at the West Lincoln High project, where a storm-water wetland was created near the student parking lot.
Storm-water drainage from the nearby lot was flowing into local streams and carrying over to farms in the area and eroding the property at the high school. Material from the cars in the lot, and chemicals like oil and anti-freeze dripping onto the pavement, were being carried into the environment.
David Ledfor designed the project that transformed the ditch into a rock-lined path that led into a wetland, where the chemicals are contained until they are filtered out about five days later.
Aside from the environmental impact the new addition is having, the school embraced the project and constructed a pier for students to use to study the water quality and other components of the area. Five wooden benches were built to harbor an “outdoor classroom” environment – an idea that gives students a hands-on approach to a real life problem, schools Superintendent Sherry Hoyle said.
The Conservation District is involved with various efforts, from helping farmers alter their properties to improve their nearby environment, to educating citizens about eco-friendly practices. This was the second tour the group has hosted, and is in conjunction with its 75th anniversary.
“The main objective with this was to show people how important farms are and for them to get to meet those farmers and see what they’re doing out here,” McSwain said. “They really have a huge economic impact.”