Farming family saves soil, labor

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February 8, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Coltranes among ACCD honorees

When Aron Coltrane and wife Jennifer joined his parents, Ron and Irene Coltrane, in their family farm operation, they brought more than new blood to the operation, they brought new ideas.
The Coltranes will be recognized Wednesday evening for their attention to soil conservation at the Allen County Conservation District annual meeting.
The significant change the younger Coltranes made was to no-till farming.
Though no-till has been around for years and isn’t unusual in Allen County, Ron Coltrane allowed he probably would have farmed as he had for years if Aron had continued to work as an agronomist in St. Marys.
 “I was going along with the machinery I had,” Ron Coltrane said. “We went to some no-till in 2004, a year after Aron came back, and altogether the next year.”
No-till, in a nutshell, is planting a new crop in the stubble of the previous year’s without any field preparation: no chiseling or disking.
“I don’t know if I ever would have tried it on my own,” Ron said. “I like it, although it does take a different mindset. Aron was schooled in no-till (at Kansas State University) and I became a true believer when fuel went over $4 a gallon.”
Fuel cost savings is significant with no-till because there’s less of a demand for heavy, fuel-gobbling tractors to groom a field. A second substantial benefit is that it curtails erosion from moisture and wind.
“If you farm the same number of acres with no-till it would save time and labor,” Coltrane said.
“In our case we added acres,” he said, with about 1,750 scheduled for planting this year in a corridor that runs from north of LaHarpe to south of the Allen County Landfill to the Allen County Airport. “We spend about the same amount of time in the field as we did before.”
“We couldn’t have expanded as much as we have without no-till,” Aron added, not only due to time required but also because additional acreage would have required an equipment update, with significant cost attached.
Father and son both have land they own. They also rent acreage.
Their recognition for soil conservation is based not just on their no-till operation. The land they farm has been fully terraced with waterways to control runoff after heavy rains, a practice that minimizes erosion.
Since they don’t work fields in a traditional manner, the Coltranes recently purchased a towable blade that will be used to shape and maintain terraces.

RON COLTRANE grew up on his parents’ farm three miles south of Gas. He and Irene married in 1964 while they were students at KSU, where he earned a degree in dairy production.
In 1966 they began a milking operation from a hen house converted to a dairy barn half a mile southwest of where they live today, a mile north of U.S. 54 between Gas and LaHarpe. Coltrane was one of a handful of prominent Allen County dairymen until he shut down that part of his operation in 2000.
In addition to crops, the Coltranes have a beef herd of about 30 head, which they are growing slowly, and also feed about 250 head, mostly steers, that they buy in the fall and send to market in late spring and summer of the next year.

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