Soil conservation helps farmers turn profit
With the escalating price of cropland in Leavenworth County, it's more important than ever to take care of the soil.
"We're in for profit," said Mark Milleret, who farms in southern Leavenworth County. "If you look at our biggest expense, it's land, and if you don't take care of the land, you don't get the profit."
Milleret and his father, L.J. Milleret, were chosen as this year's soil conservation award winners.
Together, the Millerets farm 875 acres that they own, as well as an additional 25 acres.
About 600 acres is for crops, and the rest is in timber and pastures. This includes 40 acres of hay. In addition, they have a small cow-calf herd and 21 acres in the Conservation Reserve Program.
The Millerets are new to CRP, having planted the warm season native grass and forbes mixture last spring, a season that just started a year of weather extremes.
"We think it's a stand, you really can't tell," Mark Milleret said. "We'll have to wait a year or two."
Gary Rader, district conservationist, said that establishing a good stand of native grass isn't easy, but he expressed optimism.
"There will be more grass than you think," Rader said.
Because CRP conditions prohibit grazing or haying of CRP ground, the grasses don't tend to spread. Rader said he's even seeing this in CRP fields that are 10 years old.
"If you graze the CRP grass, you get hoof action from the cattle," Rader said, "And that helps spread it out a little bit."
Strong on conservation when it comes to terracing sloping ground to prevent erosion, the Millerets have about 7,250 feet of broadbase terraces, 16,740 feet of underground terraces and 470 feet with underground tile. To enhance pasture growth, the Millerets practice livestock rotation so cattle aren't left on any one field for too long.
The Millerets have long been tied to southern Leavenworth County soil. For instance, L.J. Milleret said his father bought 160 acres near Linwood for $16,000 in the early 1900s.
But he later lost the property.
"He bought it at the high time," L.J. Milleret said. "In 1945, my brother bought the 160 acres back, and paid 50 cents on the dollar."
In 1946, L.J. Milleret finished four years in the U.S. Army and dug in his heels to buy a farm of his own. With $5,000 in the bank, he started by renting 320 acres of ground three-quarters of a mile from Golden Road and 238th Street, where he had grown up. He paid $1,490 for his first tractor, an M-International.
Today it is his son, Mark, who owns about half of the land and does most of the farming.
"Dad is officially retired," Mark Milleret said. "But I have a heck of a time keeping him off the equipment."
L.J. Milleret countered: "Well heck, it's fun now, you know, I sit in there with the air conditioner running and just ride along and turn on the radio and listen to 61 Country."
Mark Milleret appreciates having had the chance to start farming with his father.
"I got into it in 1975 with a big head start because we went into a partnership," Mark Milleret said. "For someone to go into farming now, it's less attractive."
Would it be possible considering that farmland costs are as high as $5,000 an acre in Leavenworth County to start farming from scratch today?
L.J. Milleret looked doubtful, and said:
"If you've got that much money, you don't need to."
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