ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Thanks to the efforts of William and Alice Johnson, the water in the Cottonwood River won’t have quite as much silt following the first big rain this spring.
That’s because the Johnsons have been diligent in their efforts to reduce erosion on ground they purchased in 1995 with the implementation of an extensive grass buffer system.
Because of their efforts, William and Alice have been chosen for the Grass Buffer Award in Marion County sponsored by the Marion County Farm Bureau Association.
“We have a big drainage that runs right into the Cottonwood River after big rains,” William Johnson said. “We wanted to do something to make that better and slow down the runoff.”
Johnson said he was a farm boy for the first 20 years of his life, but found employment for the next 42 years at a refinery at McPherson.
“But I always wanted to get back on the farm,” he said. “I’m kind of a wildlife type of person, so getting back into the country was a big deal.”
Johnson’s dream of owning a farm came to fruition in 1995 when he purchased a 240 acres farm from Jim Donahue, near Durham.
But erosion was a problem Johnson identified immediately, so he looked to the Marion County Conservation District and the Natural Resource Conservation Service for help in alleviating that problem.
“People need to get involved with the district and the NRCS,” Johnson said. “Gary Schuler is just fantastic.”
Schuler is the district conservationist in Marion County.
“Gary knows I don’t have any patience, but he’s really been good,” Johnson said with a chuckle. “Gary got me interested in conservation and those types of things and it just took off from there.
“He suggested the buffer strips as well as the filter strips and we did all we could.”
Those improvements include planting 25.8 acres of filter strips and 1.6 acres of contour grass buffer strips to native grass.
“I put in some CRP when I first came out here because I had some highly erodible ground that needed attention so Gary came out and we got that going,” Johnson said. “The buffer strips and contour strips are done like the conservation district and NRCS have advised us to do.
“I’ve been really pleased with what they advised me to do.”
Johnson said he’ll be the first to tell you he doesn’t care for terraces, so the filter strips were a great alternative for him.
“These strips really work nice,” he said. “There’s hardly any runoff that comes off that ground that doesn’t get filtered.
“You can walk down there right after a big rain and the water that’s coming off those buffers and filters is just as clear as it can be,” he added. “At the same time, the water coming down the Cottonwood is just muck-a lot of other people’s ground is just washing away.”
Johnson said an additional benefit the strips have over terracing is the advantage they give the wildlife on his farm.
“It’s just been fantastic for our bird habitat-I can’t hit them anymore, but they’re here,” Johnson said with a laugh.
“It’s just become plentiful with pheasants and the quail are slowly coming back,” he added. “We also have a lot of turkeys and I know these grass strips are a big benefit in this.”
Johnson said he’s the first in his family to practice conservation, but knows his children have taken notice of the benefits of his hard work.
“My folks didn’t practice any form of conservation,” he said. “I grew up around McPherson county and just tilled and planted and didn’t pay attention to conservation.
“My kids see the necessity of these projects and I know they’re very interested in conservation.”
Johnson said his grass strips are layed out in harmony with the lay of the land.
“My buffer strips kind of run east and west on highly erodible ground and they run right down into my filter strips,” he said. “You’d be surprised if you’d have seen this place when I moved here compared to now.
“We’ve done a lot of work since I’ve moved here, but I just love it,” he added. “It’s still going to take some time, but I know that.”
Keeping with his dedication to conservation of natural resources, Johnson said another project on the drawing board is the establishment of a small wetland.
“It’ll sit right down by a waterway and be about three acres,” he said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
“I like to hunt, but I also love to watch birds, too, and this well be for ducks, geese and shore birds,” he added. “It’ll have forbes in it also. We’re just going to keep going with these projects.”
Winning the Grass Buffer Award came as a surprise to Johnson, albeit a pleasant one.
“I thought it was really neat when I heard I’d won this,” he said. “I didn’t think we’ve done all that much, but the things we did weren’t done with any thought of winning any awards, but it sure is an added bonus.”
Johnson said it still amazes him how all his efforts have worked in conjunction with each other.
“The main thing was for me to get on a farm to start with,” he said. “The second thing was to improve the wildlife habitat and in the process we helped save the soil with our conservation practices.”
Maintaining natural resources is something everyone can and should do, according to Johnson.
“I think the youth of today need to practice conservation techniques,” he said. “There are certainly a lot of options and programs out there that are available for anyone that’s interested with all kinds of help.
“I see a lot of people farming with the old tillage methods and I see a lot of their soil running right into the rivers, but I guess they’re just trying to make ends meet,” he said. “But it can be done a lot easier and a lot better.”