ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Art Suderman has always made his living in the fields. For 23 years it was oil fields, but for nearly 35 years, Suderman has faithfully worked in Marion County in the fields of agriculture.
“I can’t say I’ve been involved in agriculture for a lifetime, but I’ve been doing it since around 1970,” Art said. “I’ve been working with soil conservation ever since I got into this business.”
For his dedication to the preservation of the soil on the land he owns and rents, Art and wife Harriet are the recipients of this year’s Continuation Award sponsored by the Marion County Conservation District.
A 1974 Bankers Award winner for his dedication to conservation practices, Suderman sees the results of more than three decades of hands-on conservation techniques.
“I can still see the benefits of the project that earned us that award 30 years ago,” Suderman said. “The field has a lot of slope and I used to have a lot of trouble with ditches and erosion. But that’s all stopped over the course of the past 30 years.
“It’s no fun farming terraces, but it’s a lot better than having a field with ditches and washes.”
Continuation, in Suderman’s case, also means continuing the practices he saw his father using.
“I became interested in soil conservation many years ago,” he said. “My father practiced soil conservation.
“My main reason for doing conservation practices is just the plain fact that I saw the need,” he said. “It’s no fun watching your soil wash away during a big rain.”
Suderman said his ideas for controlling erosion preceded even some of the programs imposed by the U.S. government.
“Years ago, you either had to terrace the ground or put it back into grass,” he said. “I saw the need for soil conservation even before that program came out, so I was really a jump ahead of most people as far as conservation practices.”
Suderman said you don’t have to go too far back into history to see the agricultural community had to make changes if it hoped to continue making a living off the land.
“When you get right down to it, the soil around here wasn’t farmed until around 1870,” he said. “We’ve lost a lot of our soil since then because in the beginning the farmers didn’t have access to the practices we have now days.
“The conservation program is the only way to do it right, and I’m 100 percent for it.”
Suderman said he’s constantly reminded of the need for conservation practices and need only look out his kitchen window for those reminders.
“Right east of where we live, I built those terraces myself,” he said. “The district surveyed them and layed them out, but I did the construction myself.
“It was sandy and washy, and about a 7 percent slope,” he added. “I could look out the window and just see the soil depleting. But now I’m able to look out and know the problem is under control-and that’s a really good feeling.”
Suderman said there’s no mistaking who should share the credit for his conservation practices.
“I couldn’t have done what I’ve done as far as conservation without the Marion County Conservation District and the NRCS,” he stated. “They’ve done some really good work and they’re willing to work with you.
“They’ll give you some different layouts and they’ll bend sometimes when things aren’t quite the way you’d like them to be,” he continued. “They’re a very knowledgeable group of people and they do what it takes to get the job done but still try to please the farmer in the process.”
While most people see the benefits of conservation practices, Suderman said some take longer than others for that realization.
“We need to get city people educated about the benefits of conservation, because it really does affect them, too,” he said. “I used to have neighbors who kind of laughed at me and gave me a rough time because of all the work and money I put into the land I farm. But they don’t do that anymore. They see the benefits now, too.”
Suderman added that although his own children aren’t in the farming business and “make a better living than I do,” his hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed by them.
“I think my kids are well aware of the need for conservation,” he said.
Winning the Continuation Award isn’t an honor Suderman and his wife take lightly.
“We’ve practiced conservation for many, many years not only on our own ground, but on much of the land I’ve rented,” he said. “We feel really honored to have been even put up for this award.
“I didn’t really expect it, but it’s quite an honor to have won.”
Like any farmer, Suderman said he still has projects that need his attention in the coming years.
“I still have some terraces to finish and I’m going to get them done as soon as possible.”
As Suderman does off-season machinery maintenance, he looks forward to spring time when he can once again prepare his ground for the next plantings.
But for now, he’s satisfied with the knowledge he’s made a difference for future generations by practicing sound conservation techniques.
“My days of farming are about over, but when I do quit, I know I’ll have land that’s been well taken care of for someone else to farm for many, many years,” he said. “It gives me a good feeling to sit back and think how many tons of soil we’ve probably saved over the years because of our conservation.”