ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
The only time Steve Hanneman likes to blow his own horn is when he’s exercising his considerable skill with a trumpet.
When it comes to his commitment to preserve the soil, Hanneman is quite reserved, preferring to simply continue working toward that goal along with wife Donna on their farm south of Hillsboro.
But for his efforts to conserve that soil, the Hannemans have been awarded the 2005 Bankers Award sponsored by the Marion County Bankers Association and the Kansas Bankers Association.
“I knew I was finishing the practices on my contract, but I hadn’t really thought about any award,” Hanneman said. “But it’s really nice to be appreciated and recognized. And it’s a little bit of advertisement for those who aren’t done or should be doing something.”
Hanneman has seen conservation measures from both sides-as a producer as well as a dirt contractor.
“I was initially exposed to conservation because I was farming some highly erodible ground and the government was helping pay the cost to do the practices,” Hanneman said. “It was also necessitated because the government made you comply with conservation practices if you wanted to receive government payments for their programs.
“There were a lot of contracts that needed to be fulfilled and there was a shortage of contractors so I bought some equipment and got into that.”
Hanneman said his own father was a farmer, but got out of the business before practices were in vogue.
“He didn’t really do much conservation work, but he quit farming in the mid-1980s,” he said. “Conservation was really just taking hold then.”
Conservation measures began in earnest for the Hannemans in the early 1990s.
“What I own isn’t highly erodible land, but at that time, the land I was renting was,” he said. “I don’t know if I’ve seen it from a personal experience, but I do believe it makes a difference to landlords if you’re willing to keep up on the land as far as conservation.
“If you don’t let the ground go downhill, the landowners will be appreciative.”
Realizing his rented ground needed conservation work, Hanneman purchased a large scraper and front-end dozer.
His equipment is paying dividends on not only his own ground, but the ground of others.
“I do some dirt work for monetary enhancement,” he said.
Hanneman learned the nuances and procedures necessary to construct conservation practices through trial and error as well as advice from the Natural Resources Conservation Service staff.
“You find out what the NRCS guys want and how things need to be done,” Hanneman said. “They’re really helpful when it comes to working with you on building terraces and waterways.”
Eventually, Hanneman noticed his ground was showing the effects of large rains, leading to erosion.
“That was very troubling for me, but I knew terraces would take care of it,” he said. “It was just getting to be a hassle to farm around ditches without terraces-you just get to the point you know you need to do something.”
Working with the Marion County Conservation District and the NRCS staff, Hanneman began implementing his own conservation practices, which he recently completed.
Included was 13.3 acres of waterways, 20,270 feet of terraces and 592 feet of diversion terraces.
“I’ve been very satisfied with how my terraces have worked although you do have to keep an eye on them,” Hanneman said. “It’s hard to quantify losing soil, but it’s certainly easy to quantify farming without that loss and not having to farm around ditches and erosion.
“Since I’ve had my land terraced, we’ve had a number of big rains that would have taken my soil and put some big ditches in the ground-or kept them going-and that would have made my land tougher to farm,” he added.
“Without terraces, I’d probably have interruptions and ditches and probably areas with weeds because I wouldn’t have been able to farm right up to the ditches. It gets messy that way, but with terraces, you can farm everything.”
Hanneman said maintaining the terraces is about as important to keep them functioning properly as the original construction process.
“If the terraces are looking a little low, it’s dry enough to plow and I don’t have a crop growing on them, I’ll plow them up,” he said. “Most of my terraces have fairly good height right now so it’s as needed and as weather allows.”
Weather also determines the necessity of additional maintenance.
“After big rains, you get some siltation, so you have to keep them in good shape,” he said. “Every-thing just stays a little tighter when you have terraces to divert your water every once in a while.”
Hanneman said some of his waterways are enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, adding dollars to his bottom line.
Farmers can length the life of their terraces if they maintain them properly, Hanneman said.
“I have planting equipment that I don’t have to follow my terraces exactly, but I do plant in their general direction,” he said. “I can go over my terraces to a certain extent when planting and it still keeps the seeds planting at the right depth.”
Hanneman uses double cropping techniques, but very little no-till farming so far.
“I’m thinking of trying more this year,” he said. “It’s a very good way to go for conserving soil.”
With some land in his family for as many as 70 years, Hanneman said he’s sure his forebears would approve of his conservation practices, providing they understood them.
“This ground looks a lot different than it did,” he said. “We had a lot of hedge rows, so my ancestors might not even recognize it.
“I suppose the old-timers would wonder if all these measures are necessary, but they didn’t have the opportunities we do now for conservation. They didn’t know any differently.”
Working with the NRCS is all about cooperation, according to Hanneman.
“I generally work with Doug Svitak and Dale Ehlers, and they’re good to work with,” he said. “They’ve been at it a long time and they know what to tell you and what you need to know.”
Hanneman said even though his ground is not highly erodible, he’s glad he’s made the effort to address his conservation needs.
“If I had to do it all over, I’d still practice conservation because our land needs attention,” he said. “Each farmer is different and each field is unique, but depending on how much erosion you see, or if there’s soil moving and ditches are forming, there’s really no reason not to practice sound conservation.”