ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Although Richard Stika now lives in Colorado and has been away from the farm for many years, his knowledge of the land in Marion County and the surrounding area is as keen as if he never left.
With that knowledge comes the understanding that in order to get the maximum benefits from the land, it must be cared for and the latest in conservation techniques must be used.
For his dedication to the land and his devotion to sound conservation practices, Stika has been named a Marion County Bankers Award winner for 2003 sponsored by the Marion County Bankers Association and the Kansas Bankers Association.
“As a landowner, I can see that if the land isn’t taken care of, it won’t last near as long or be productive near as long without conservation,” Stika said from his home in Lakewood, Colo.
As a businessman who does financial services in Colorado, Stika knows all about the value of a dollar and what it means to make sound financial decisions.
“I think conservation is a long-term investment,” he said. “Over time it really pays off. I believe the money that was spent on our conservation practices was well spent.”
Stika said his folks began the process of conservation practices many years ago, but at the time he thought of conservation as “a necessary evil” because of the costs associated with it.
But as time went on, they realized the importance of protecting the quality of the soil and resources the property had to offer.
In the process, Stika said he learned the value of protecting those resources also, and knows part of his legacy was to carry on their ideals.
“I think it (conservation ideas) goes back to carrying on what my folks believed in and that’s being good stewards of the land,” he said.
Stika said his father passed away in 1995, and it was his mother who began the arduous process of preserving the family farm’s soils.
“She started this whole process back in 1997,” he said. “I was her agent and I basically worked with her throughout the process until her death in December 2002.
“I have enough farming background to know this has to be a win-win situation for both myself and my renters,” he added. “That’s why I continued this after mother passed away.”
Also instrumental in the conservation has been the Stika’s renters of over 20 years, Randy Svitak and Don Meysing.
“I won’t ever go back and farm, but I want to be a good landlord for my tenants,” Stika said. “I want my tenants to be successful farming, but I also want a fair price for the rent.
“It’s a two-way street,” he added. “The farmers are willing to do their part if I do my part and it just works out for all of us.”
Conservation techniques incorporated include waterways, tile outlet terraces, and parallel and gradient terraces.
Working in conjunction with your renters is also a key variable in making a conservation program work for both land owner and tenant.
Stika said living such a long distance from the ground, he must rely on his tenants to keep him advised of the needs of the ground as they arise, as well as work with them to incorporate conservation work in conjunction with their crop rotations.
“If my tenant can’t make a living and goes out of business, I’d have to change tenants and I don’t want to do that,” Stika said. “I’m honest with them and they’re honest with me, and there’s no reason for us to expect that this won’t work.”
Although the Stika family owns about 420 acres, Richard received the Bankers Award for a specific 80 acres of ground that he owns, ground which proved to be the catalyst for the remaining conservation efforts.
Improvements made on the 80 acres include 4.5 acres of waterways and 8,678 feet of terraces.
“This was the first piece of ground that we began work on in 1997,” he said.
According to Stika, the Marion County Conservation District and the Natural Resources Conservation Service have been instrumental in the overall conservation schemes.
“They’ve been very supportive and very encouraging with all of our conservation projects,” Stika said. “I think good farming techniques are important, but it just makes good sense to incorporate good conservation practices on the ground also.”
Although Stika now calls Colorado home, his roots are on a farm near Lincolnville.
Stika still appreciates the struggles that need to be overcome to make a living off the land.
“When I was a kid, the farming techniques were different than they are now, but I think we’re all becoming more in tune to the environment,” he said. “Farming is a tough business and even though I don’t live on a farm, I appreciate it.”
While Stika isn’t quite sure why he was chosen as a recipient of this year’s Bankers Award, he thinks his perseverance may have played a key in his selection.
“Maybe it’s because it’s been a process that started in 1997 and was carried through,” he said. “The fact this was something my mother initiated and I was able to finish gives me a good feeling and I appreciate this award.”
Stika said the initial plan has been addressed on the family farm and the immediate needs have been addressed, but he knows landowners have to maintain their property in good shape to make it workable for the tenants.
“It’s either pay me now or pay me later,” he said. “You either do your conservation work now or the ground will not be friendly to you.
“Eventually, you’ll have to do your conservation work or you won’t have anything left.”