A fountain drink – Hartman keeps his finger on the pulse of farm tech

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February 15, 2014 - 12:00 AM


Gene Hartman has taken advantage of cutting-edge agricultural technology for improving water quality on his farm.
Hartman will be recognized for those efforts at a meeting of the Allen County Conservation District at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the New Community Building in Riverside Park.
During the past several days, when many of his neighbors were faced with the rigorous task of chopping through several inches of ice on ponds to free up water for cattle, Hartman could relax, knowing his livestock were well-hydrated.
Hartman has concrete fountains connected to a rural water district line.
“There was a little skim of ice on them” when overnight lows dipped into negative numbers, but even then it wasn’t a problem for cattle in need of a drink.
No matter the weather, livestock require a generous amount of water to maintain their health. The standard for mature livestock in winter is about six gallons a day, with that doubling for cows with new calves.
The fountains hold about 200 gallons of water. The frost-free feature comes from them being partially underground, an insulation factor, and also having a float, similar to a toilet, that controls the level of water when cattle start slurping it up.
Kelli Kramer, county conservation district manager, said fountains have been around for a while, and have become more popular with the intermittent dry weather that the area has experienced the past several years.
A low or dry pond won’t support a fountain, while one connected to a rural water district line is all but fail-safe. And, when the weather is at its driest, it also usually is hot, which puts more emphasis on having water available for livestock.
Water demands for beef cattle in hot weather can soar to 15 to 20 gallons a day.
For all practical purposes, Hartman, 54, has farmed all his life.
He grew up on a typical spread north of Moran and, after marrying wife Kristi, he farmed part time with her father, Don Welch. When Welch’s health took a turn for the worse, Hartman took on the occupation full time, on land north of LaHarpe.
The fountains are just part of the forward-looking things Hartman has done to protect soil and conserve water.
Over the last 10 years he has constructed 20,775 feet of terraces — that’s nearly four miles — on crop ground. In fields too small to farm from a practical standpoint, he has seeded a total of 25 acres to native grass.
He selected native grass over fescue because it makes better hay and is better forage for cattle, Hartman said, even with the native grass taking three years — for fescue it’s a year — to be ready to cycle through his calf-cow operation.

WHILE HARTMAN’S full-time association with farming started in 2008, he never has been away from the discipline.
After growing up helping out with cattle and grain, he graduated from Marmaton Valley High School in 1977 and went to work for E.J. Seifker, whose farm contains many acres in the eastern part of the county. He then farmed for Ron Coltrane, north of LaHarpe and not far from where he toils today.
He also spent some time with Alco Implement.
He has a hired hand in Travis Rieske, “a high school kid who helps me out.”
He and Kristi have been married 33 years. They have three daughters, Jaci Littrell, who teaches second grade in Winfield; Julie Heskett, who works at Gates Corporation; and Jill, who lives in Topeka. Julie has two daughters, Emily, 2, and Aubrie, seven months, either of whom can pry granddad Gene away from farm work without much effort.
Wife Kristi, a 1979 graduate of MVHS, is an occupational therapist for the school district in Fort Scott.
Hartman firmly believes that environmentally sound conservation practices are a necessity for farming. When asked about why so many terraces, he said the answer was simple: “You have to have them or the soil will wash away.”

CONSERVATION awards have been given annually since the 1960s, Kramer said, but in recent years finding recipients has been more difficult.
“A lot of it is we’re just running out of potential winners,” she said. “Years ago there sometimes were five or six winners each year.”
Also, once a winner a farmer is disqualified from further consideration.
Some new categories, such as for contractors who build terraces, ponds and other soil and water conservation structures, are being considered, Kramer said.
Federally funded grants to aid Allen County farmers in conservation practices totaled $480,427 in 2013. Grants were made for watershed restoration and protection, forestry, environmental quality and soil and water preservation practices.
The numbers are staggering.
During the year 127,425 feet of terraces were built and supported by 21 acres of waterways; seven ponds and 17 watering facilities were constructed, with 16,968 feet of fences to protect them; and brush management was done on 474 acres.

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