For David, a half-century of conserving soil

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Andrew David says modestly that the Marion County Soil Conservation office must have “scraped the bottom of the barrel” to choose him as this year’s winner of the “Continuation Award.” But his commitment to soil conservation, which has lasted more than a half century, may have had a lot to do with it.

David and his sister, Elma, own and manage David Farm west of Durham. They were already building terraces in the 1950s, but Andrew said his interest in soil conservation preceded that by several years- even though their parents had limited experiences in such practices when they managed the family farm.

“The government wasn’t starting to push that stuff yet,” Andrew said. “Then my father had a fatal heart attack when he was 56, so he wasn’t really around (when soil conservation began to be promoted).”

Even so, David’s father was already doing a few things along that line that seem like common sense now.

“My father, when he was still living, wouldn’t plow through the ditches,” he said. “It wasn’t a common thought at all, then.”

Andrew David remembers one of government’s early attempts to help.

“They did have a government program where they would cost-share on the cost of grass seed,” he added. “We thought that was just great.”

David and his sister began putting in terraces and waterways after seeing how much topsoil was washing away in the area.

“We just couldn’t see the way the neighbors would plow through the ditches,” he said. “Every time they plowed through it, it would just wash deeper. (Putting in terraces) just seemed to be the sensible thing to do.”

David said investing in conservation practices can have a mixed economic advantage, depending on one’s perspective about the land.

“The guys who are really farming for all it’s worth, they’re not too concerned about what’s going to happen to the land down the road on a short-term basis,” he said. “They might have been ahead of us (economically, by not investing in conservation). But I think we have a moral obligation to be good stewards of the land.”

For many years, the Davids’ 900-acre operation included both cropland and grassland. Today, the cropland they own is farmed by tenants; the Davids focus on the cow/calf side of their enterprise, making sure pastures are grazed properly and brush is controlled.

The Davids also have reduced their acres of cropland by seeding several fields to native grasses in recent years.

“We’ve just turned a lot of questionable acres back to grass and we’re sure glad of it,” he said.

He appreciates that the government still helps pay for the grass seed because it’s “higher than a kite.” He also likes the principles behind the Conservation Reserve Program.

“They have a common-sense, long-range approach to it that we agree with,” David said.

After more than 50 years of being engaged in conservation practices, David has some advice for young farmers.

“They’re just going to have to make up their minds,” he said. “They won’t live forever, and they’re going to have to do something for future generations. I know when you’re a young squirt, that really doesn’t seem to matter. But I’m so grateful for what our forebearers did for us because, well, I’m not that young anymore.”

He’s convinced of the economic benefit, too, in the long run.

“It’s really possible to have a reasonably profitable operation and conserve the soil at the same time,” he added. “It pays off in dollars and cents even from year to year, although sometimes it’s a little hard to see.”

David has no regrets about his long commitment to conservation.

“We weren’t really trying for any honors or any awards at all,” he said. “It just seems to be the sensible and natural thing to do.”

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