ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Lauren and Jim Enns are more than father and son. They’re a team.
And that team, along with wives Luetta and Brenda, respectively, recently teamed with the Marion County Conservation District to establish an extensive filter strip on their farms north of Hillsboro.
Those efforts earned the Enns clan the 2005 Grass Buffer Award sponsored by the Marion County Farm Bureau Association.
“I’ve farmed my entire lifetime,” said Lauren, a retired dairyman. “I got started with conservation because some of our ground was highly erodible and we had to do something if we wanted to keep farming it, or else we’d have had to put it all back to grass.”
Jim, already a 30-year veteran of the farm, agreed that conservation is a necessity if the operation is to be successful.
“I could see early on that we needed to do conservation work,” he said. “You could see the ditches washing and our soil going down to the bottom of the fields.”
For Lauren, conservation practices began early in his farming career.
“The first thing we ever did was build and establish waterways,” Lauren said. “We added a lot of terraces over the years, but it’s only been recently that we started adding the buffer strips.
“Now we have buffer strips along all our creeks because the water that comes off our ground in big rains eventually ends up in Marion Reservoir.”
Beginning in 2003, the duo seeded 14.4 acres to native grass in the Continuous Conservation Reserve Program, an acreage sufficient to buffer all the creeks on their property.
“These strips are designed to filter the water as it runs off during big rains,” Jim said. “It really just grabs the dirt out of the water.”
Lauren said the impact the filter strips have on their ground is clearly evident.
“It doesn’t allow our runoff to enter the streams,” he said. “I’m sure these strips are already benefitting our ground because you can see it.”
A bonus benefit, said Lauren, is the increased visibility of wildlife in and near the filter strips.
“We were over at a farm of ours west of here and all we could see of a deer was it’s head in the grass-the grass is that tall,” he said.
“Although that wildlife really doesn’t benefit us, it really has helped with wildlife habitat,” Jim agreed.
An additional benefit for the pair is that the filter strips are enrolled in Continuous CRP, meaning the government subsidizes the practice with a yearly payment.
“Even though it’s not all that much, it still helps,” Lauren said.
Added Jim: “I don’t know if we would have done this without the program. It really did help to make our decision.”
But once the decision was made to enhance their land with the filter strips, Mother Nature wasn’t quite as cooperative as the crew at the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“We had to have a lot of patience because the first year we had milo in there (for a cover crop); it was so dry we had to put milo in again,” Lauren said.
“The first time they came out and checked our grass stand, they told us we better wait for another year,” Jim added. “So we did that-but in that second year, the grass really came on like gangbusters.”
Both Lauren and Jim agreed the filter strips have caused little, if any, inconvenience.
“We really never really raised anything next to the creek anyway, so it’s worked out really well,” Lauren said. “These strips keep the soil from disappearing-and besides, we don’t need our topsoil running into Marion Reservoir.
“Top soil is very important if you want to raise good crops, so we might as well keep it at home.”
Jim said the design of the strips has actually promoted better accessibility to his ground.
“We kind of straightened the edges up, so where there used to be curves and crooks we used to have to farm around, we have pretty much a straight shot at it now,” Jim said.
“It seems like if you’re farming along the creek, if it’s dry the trees are going to suck the moisture from your crops and if it’s wet, the water comes out and takes it anyway. So I’ve been pretty pleased with the filter strips.”
Transitioning out of the dairy business in 1996, Jim now raises beef cattle and recognizes the importance of water quality for Marion County.
“Where we’re at with our operation, we have a lot of grass between us and the creek,” Jim said. “But I know the buffer strips are designed to help with water quality.”
Other practices utilized on the Enns farm include drainage tubes as well as the possibility of more CRP.
“The drainage tubes aren’t really outlet tiles, but they are designed to divert water,” Jim said. “They’re culverts or tubes that get the water to travel from our terraces into the county road ditch.”
Both father and son agreed the first step in quality conservation practices should be through the front door of the Marion County NRCS office.
“Farmers really need to use conservation measures if they want to stay in business,” Lauren said. “The guys over at the office-especially Dale Ehlers-have been very helpful telling us what practices are available and in helping us get those practices in place.
“I would sure suggest people go to the soil conservation office and ask them about buffer strips,” he added. “I don’t think anyone would be sorry they used buffers.”
“They’ve been terrific,” Jim echoed about the NRCS staff. “I can’t say enough about Dale and Doug (Svitak). They’re just good common sense people with a good farm background; they really know what they’re talking about and work with you the best they can.”
Being recognized with the Grass Buffer Award was a pleasant bonus for both farmers.
“I was very surprised to hear we’d won; I had no idea it was coming,” Lauren said.
Added Jim: “I guess it gives us a little satisfaction about our time spent, though.”
Jim said the onus for preserving the integrity of the land is squarely on the shoulders of those who make a living from it.
“God put us here to take care of the land and conservation is a way that we can fulfill our obligations and make sure we’re doing the best job we can,” he said. “I’d recommend people go to the NRCS office and inquire about filter strips. They really are a pretty good concept.”