Archive for Wednesday, January 23, 2002

Future of agriculture requires conservation

January 23, 2002

B.A. Skeet doesn't mind checking the calves at 2 in the morning. He doesn't mind the continual worry of running the farm by himself. He doesn't mind that as a self-employed farmer he misses out on yearly pay raises and employee benefits.

But he does mind that the farmland where he's lived all his life is gradually giving way to housing developments. He said he'd would like to ensure that the land where he lives will never be developed.

Skeet and his wife, Deborah, are recipients of the Leavenworth County 2002 Kansas Bankers Soil Conservation Award.

Morning sun shines in the south windows of Skeet's living room as he looks outside onto the view of the barn. Conservation is important, Skeet said.

"If you don't practice conservation, pretty soon you're not going to have anything left," Skeet said. "And even if you do practice it, sometimes you have those big rains and you still get some erosion."

Skeet practices conservation tillage, which gives an added bonus it saves time. And, he builds and maintains terraces and waterways to further prevent erosion.

The Skeets bought the farm where they live in 1974. He had grown up on a farm west of Reno. Deborah owns and operates Debbie's Beauty Salon at 935 Iowa in Lawrence.

At their farm, he raises about 100 head of cattle. His farming operation includes corn, milo, soybeans, and brome and fescue. Skeet also farms other land, including that for the Robb family, also named a 2001 conservation winner.

The upside of farming, Skeet said, is the independence.

"You're your own boss, you get to be outside whether it's cold or hot and you get to watch stuff grow and take care of livestock," Skeet said.

And the downside, he said, is this:

"It gets harder every year to make a living," Skeet said. "The subsidies help, but we shouldn't have to have them."

For instance, the price of grain never seems to increase. Skeets' father told him that corn sold for $2.50 a bushel after World War II.

"It's not that much now," Skeet said. "And the machinery didn't cost nearly as much then as it does now."

The increased yields from today's seeds and fertilizers don't make up for the added expenses, he said.

And lately, the lack of rain has been a worry.

"I haven't seen a December and January like this for years," Skeet said.

Gary Rader, district conservationist with Natural Resources Conservation Service, said he and County Extension Agent Sy Nyhart also have been impressed with Skeet's conservation work on farmland he rents.

"Several of those have had conservation awards," Rader said.

Skeet declined to take full credit for that.

"The landlord's got to be receptive to it," he said. "I've been pretty lucky that most of them have been."

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