Jim Smart will be recognized Monday evening at the annual meeting of the Allen County Conservation District for developing better quality water on his farms northwest of Moran. The event will start at 6:30 in the community building in Iola’s Riverside Park.
Events leading to the award started when Smart decided to operate his father’s farm, which he purchased in 2005 after working in research for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Texas for 12 years.
“The chance to move back (to Allen County) was exciting,” Smart said.
It also came with some anxiety.
Smart wasn’t coming into a robust enterprise. Having grown up on the farm and familiar with the economics of agriculture, Smart knew he didn’t have the money at hand to purchase a full complement of tillage and heavy equipment. Little family equipment was available.
Instead, he relied on his instincts, honed during USDA assignments, and decided to go no-till from the start.
“It’s not as labor-intensive,” Smart said, and the equipment needed, a planter, drill and sprayer, are affordable.
Fertilizer is applied in a banding process with no-till, a few inches to the side with nitrogen and in the same row with seeds for phosphorus and potassium.
“It’s a lot more efficient than the old way — broadcasting,” Smart summed up, where up to 25 percent of an application is lost to the elements.
An aside of putting down fertilizer at planting time, often in relatively heavy cover, is to do soil testing ahead of time, Smart said.
“That way you know each year what the plants need in each field,” he said.
SO WHAT does field work have to do with water quality?
Everything, said Smart.
“It starts in the field,” by keeping fertilizer in the ground and controlling rainfall runoff with terraces and waterways, including tilled terraces that deposit water directly to field’s side. That eliminates the need for waterways and opens more ground to farming.
Three ponds Smart built are fenced and have water piped to outsider drinkers, which keeps cows away from the pond’s edge and, Smart observed, “keeps pee and poop our of the pond water.” It also keeps pond banks from becoming muddy quagmires.
“Cows also like cool, clean water they get from the drinkers,” Smart said.
A wintertime benefit is not having to cut ice to open water for cows and not having to worry about a cow or calf breaking through ice and possibly dying.
SMART is enrolled in the Conservation Stewardship Program, which assesses an entire operation and provides cash awards to a farmer for what he does to protect the environment.
“The payments are nice,” Smart said. The program also encourages him to try some things a little out of the ordinary, such as planting a cover crop — annual rye or clover — over an entire field.
“That reduces erosion and recycles nutrients,” Smith noted, “and also provides nice mulch for the crop planted in the spring.”
Droughts of the past two years have been significant nuisances for farmers, but Smart said his crops planted in ground-covered fields did substantially better than he had expected. Some of the ground cover also has root systems that penetrate the ground up to 24 inches.
“That breaks up the soil as well as deep tilling,” he said.
The ground cover has the additional benefit of encouraging deer and other wildlife to take up residence.