ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
No matter what line of work you’re in, planning for the future is prudent thinking.
Randy and Carol Vogel of Marion aren’t sure what the future may hold for their Marion County farm, but the couple knows whoever eventually takes the reigns will inherit ground that’s been treated with sound conservation practices.
For their dedication of preserving the natural resources and the benefits associated with it, the couple have been named recipients of the Banker Award sponsored by the Marion County Bankers Association and the Kansas Bankers Association.
“I feel the role of a farmer is, as best as one can, to try to maintain the soil for not only us that farm it now, but for the next generation,” Randy Vogel said. “If a person doesn’t do something now, it won’t take long for that soil to start wasting away.”
Vogel said wife Carol is also a firm believer in practicing sound conservation.
“My wife and I do the farming together,” he said. “She drives the tractor and helps work cattle. She’s a very important part of the overall program.”
The couple also relies their children-Alan, a sophomore at Kansas State University; Alissa, a senior at Marion High School; and Eric, a seventh-grader at Marion Middle School-to do their part on the family farm.
“Alan has been home during the summers working full time, Alissa helps and Eric is just getting started,” Vogel said.
He also believes the children are aware of the value of sound conservation practices to ensure the viability of the ground in years to come.
“They’re aware, especially Alan,” Vogel said. “If he’s over the ground and sees a terrace needs some help because of a breech of whatever, he’ll take note of it, tell me and we’ll take fix it.”
His son majors in agronomy and agricultural economics, but Vogel isn’t sure Alan will return to the family farm. But he knows it’s necessary to maintain the natural resources in any case.
“I guess it goes back to the old saying I’m sure you’ve heard a thousand times, ‘I just want to leave the ground better than I found it.'”
Vogel said his conservation work is a continuation of practices his father, James, began more than 50 years ago.
“I come from a farming background and my dad was a farmer,” he said. “Dad had terraces on his ground back in the late ’50s already.
“Toward the end of his farming career, he did a lot of terracing and waterway work, and I’m just kind of carrying through with what he started.”
Vogel said it was obvious the ground had a pressing need for conservation improvements.
“You could see the erosion-gullies and washes,” he said. “We were just having a hard time holding the soil in place. We were able to address our immediate problem, but it just wasn’t going to get the job done and we needed to try stronger measures.”
Those stronger measures included incorporating 5.33 acres of waterways and 9,180 feet of terraces-practices that Vogel said have already paid dividends.
“These practices have already stopped the gullies that were always trying to keep working and eroding over the years,” he said. “We’d always try to leave straw and residue in the ditches, but we were really just fighting a losing battle.”
Providing the primary assistance through the Natural Resources and Conservation Service office was conservation technician Doug Svitak.
“I really like working with Doug,” Vogel said. “He gives you options, he’s understanding and he just has the ability to get along with people.”
Another project on Vogels’ farm was a 1.7 acre critical area grass planting.
“That ground was kind of rocky and just didn’t raise anything so we planted it back to brome grass,” he said. “It was just poorer soil and it didn’t make much sense to put terraces on it.”
Other marginally profitable ground Vogel took out of production included an 11-acre tract that was reseeded with native grasses.
“It was ground that wouldn’t terrace very well so we converted it back to grass,” he said. “After the grass got well established, we fenced it in with our pasture ground.”
Vogel practices sound conservation practices on other ground though too, not just that which won him the Banker Award.
His use of no-till farming on a small tract prone to lowland flooding has likely decreased his incidence of scour erosion.
“It hasn’t flooded since we started no-tilling, but it sure looks like it’s going to help with the erosion problem,” he said. “At least we’re hoping it does.”
As most farmers do, Vogel also leases ground owned by others. But his dedication to conservation isn’t limited by the fact he just rents the ground.
“Most of my landlords really realize the importance of conservation work,” he said. “We’ve terraced everything or sewed brome in highly erodible land elsewhere.
“I also have a landlord who planted about six acres of brome on non-HEL ground,” he said. “And we still plan on adding more terraces on my own farm.”
A 1975 Marion High School graduate, Vogel has been farming for 30 years and witnessed the evolution of conservation practices.
“We’re doing a better job of holding our soil than we did when I started 30 years ago,” he said. “If we hadn’t done something on some of this ground, it would be pretty ugly and gullied up by now. We’d be down to the subsoil and rocks.
“It’s just a matter of preserving what resources you still have.”
Common sense dictates people take advantage of the services the NRCS offers, according to Vogel.
“Everyone needs to practice conservation,” he said. “If a field has gullies in it now and you don’t have conservation plans in effect, it’s only going to get worse unless you take some sort of action.
“After it rains, it just feels good to see the water in the waterways and know there aren’t gullies forming and knowing the grass in them is helping filter the water,” he said. “I know there’s always room for improvement though, and we’ll just keep after it.”
While unsure why his family was selected for the award, Vogel said he believes his willingness to participate in the available programs may have been a factor.
“I think the fact we recognized the need for conservation practices and were willing to take action was also a reason we won,” he said. “But we’d just like to thank the bankers that sponsor this award and all the people who are responsible for the award.
“I think the guys in the NRCS office deserve mention too, especially Doug,” he added. “It’s a nice honor to win.”