ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
Developing an efficient and effective manure-handling system for a dairy operation may not be one of the more glamorous ways to conserve and protect natural resources, but it is nonetheless significant.
Because of their successful effort to implement that strategy for their dairy operation near Goessel-plus the addition of some waterways and terraces in their fields-Dwight and Tammy Flaming have been named winners of a 2006 Bankers Award sponsored by the Marion County Bankers Association and the Kansas Bankers Association.
“It surprised me,” Dwight said about receiving it. “When I look at those who have received awards before me, it’s kind of a prestigious group. I feel honored to be receiving that award. I had no indication it was in the works and didn’t have any aspirations to receive it, really.”
In the case of the manure-handling system, the Flamings’ aspirations were both externally and internally motivated.
“Obviously, there were some regulations involved in getting to the point where we had zero runoff on our facilities,” Dwight said. “But I always was concerned about trying to minimize runoff.
“We just wanted to get to a point where we were comfortable with the way we were handling our manure and not be in a situation where we were polluting streams.”
When the Flamings expanded their dairy operation a few years ago, they also wanted to update their waste-management system.
“We went to a system where we pretty much contain 100 percent of the runoff from our lots where the dairy cows are housed,” Flaming said. “It’s a system where we are able to separate the solids and liquids. The liquids, then, are pumped up to the lagoon, and then we recycle that and use it for flush water in our dairy barn.
“That’s allowed us to handle the manure more efficiently, so when we use the manure for fertilizer we aren’t hauling a lot of extra water out on the field. We can transport it in a drier state and improve our efficiency that way.”
Flaming said plans for the new system were developed with help from the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Kansas State Research and Extension.
“They basically worked together,” he said. “We had some ideas we had collected from various operations we had visited, and had visited with other dairymen to see what would work in our situation.
“We also visited with personnel from the K-State engineering department and worked with NRCS in finalizing those plans and getting specs on the construction of it to the point where we could go ahead and get it installed.”
Flaming said the process was a good one.
“I felt we had a good relationship working with them. Any time there’s a project like that, there’s going to be compromise between the ideal from the engineer’s standpoint, what’s practical from the dairy producer’s standpoint and what NRCS wants to see.
“They worked very well with all facets involved to get something that would be very serviceable and cost-effective, and getting it to a point where it did function properly.”
Likewise, the NRCS staff was helpful when the Flamings built an additional 8.4 acres of waterways and 21,116 feet of terraces, some of which use pipe outlets and are parallel.
“The terraces and waterways are installed in two different tracts (totaling 160 acres),” Flaming said. “Part of my goal was that I wanted to put soil conservation structures in the field, but also try to get them so they don’t interfere with farming.
“I wanted to have them laid out so they would work, but also to minimize the inefficiency that comes with having terraces in a field.
“On the first tract we did install some pipe outlets in a number of the terraces so we could shorten up the waterways,” Flaming said. “It would still work just as well as if we had waterways out in the field. We would use pipe outlets on a number of terraces so we could control the rain water but still farm it a little more efficiently.”
The second tract of land had been recently purchased.
“We saw the structures that had been done there in the past-they were to the point where they really hadn’t done much other than filling in some washouts with rock and stuff, and that was washed around it and getting worse.
“Before we would farm it very long, we knew we would put some terraces in there.”
Again, NRCS staff helped Flaming review his options.
“In that field we went in with parallel terraces, which is a technique we hadn’t had on any of our fields, but it seemed to work in laying it out in that one.
“We’ve farmed it now one year with the structures in place. I like the way they work. You don’t have to worry about all the point rows and the angles coming out differently. You just farm them parallel with the terraces and work around the pipes. The runoff is controlled with pipes rather than waterways.”
Flaming said conservation practices have been a way of life for as long as he can remember from his boyhood days on the farm. The commitment has continued through the years he farmed in partnership with his father, Randolf, and now that Dwight is the sole proprietor.
“The ground that doesn’t need terraces, we don’t put them in there, obviously,” he said. “But pretty well everything that has needed terraces or some kind of a structure to control erosion, we’ve had that installed.
“We’ve worked together with landlords through the years to get some structures in place and get to the point where we are comfortable with controlling the runoff in a way that we conserve the soil as well as help the farming.”
Flaming knows conservation pays off economically in the long run, but it’s not the only reason he’s committed to such practices.
“We’re stewards of the soil while we’re here on the earth,” he said. “It’d just be a shame to leave the soil in worse condition than when we took over.
“There’s many generations of farmers that will be following us and will want to raise crops on the same soil. We definitely keep that at the forefront of everything we do with the soil.
“It all comes down to structuring our activities so we can leave that soil in good condition for the next group of farmers that come along.”