ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
As a financial analyst for Koch Industries, Lucas Carlson knows the value of a dollar. So it was only natural that Carlson would also be aware of the importance of conserving the natural resources on land he purchased near Lincolnville in 2003.
Because of this willingness to take the necessary steps to preserve those natural resources, Carlson was recently named the recipient of the Young Conservation Farmer Award for 2006, sponsored by UM Bank of Abilene.
“I knew as soon as I bought the ground that I needed to get after the conservation,” Carlson said from his home in Bel Aire. “In fact, I think I visited with the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) within the first month of buying the ground.”
For Carlson, conserving natural resources is almost second nature. His father, Ronnie, is a veteran dirt contractor who has taken on conservation projects for himself and others for years.
“My dad is big on conservation since he’s a contractor, but he’s always had terraces on his own ground and kept them up to standards, too,” Carlson said. “I saw this over the years and have always known the importance of conservation.
“Everyone in my family has always made sure they had their terraces and waterways in good condition,” he added. “But even without that, when you have land and you see some of your good top soil running away after a rain, you know it’s not good.”
While the 27-year-old Carlson is able to fit farming in only on weekends, he hopes to someday return to rural Marion County.
“It’s in my blood,” Carlson said of his aspiration to take up farming full time.
Carlson purchased 160 acres near his father’s farm nearly four years ago and found the ground to be in need of conservation attention.
“We had problems with big rains, especially early on,” he said. “Part of it had terraces that were built in 1949 and in need of repair, but part of the ground didn’t have any conservation practices on it at all.
“The old terraces either needed to be rebuilt or redone. Since they were getting so flat, we just decided to redesign them and build new terraces.”
Since then, Carlson has built 1.37 acres of waterways, constructed 13,108 feet of terraces that outlet into a waterway through a pipe or onto native grass, and added 1,637 feet of diversion terraces.
Carlson credits the Marion County NRCS staff with making the task much easier.
“They’re very helpful because it’s really hard to know all the options you have for conservation,” Carlson said. “But these guys work with it everyday so it’s something they know a lot about.
“They came up with a tube outlet system on this land and it seems to work really well.”
Carlson said the terraces function by pooling water and letting it slowly drain through the pipe tube.
“If it gets too much water and can’t drain fast enough, the excess water runs around both ends of the terrace,” he said. “But it eliminates waterways as well, so you can farm everything.
“It’s still not as convenient as ground without terraces, but it’s definitely workable.”
Carlson has plans to fix an existing pond included in a 37-acre tract of native grass, with the hope of improving the use of natural forage.
Working with the Farm Service Agency, Carlson took advantage of a program which assists young farmers such as himself to implement necessary conservation practices.
“I had to have been farming for less than 10 years which I qualified for and then they offered 70 percent cost share,” Carlson said.
“That was really helpful for me because coming right out of college, I didn’t have a lot of money and I hadn’t farmed the ground long enough to have much income coming from it.
“They made it so I didn’t have to borrow a lot of money because if I had, I’d still be paying on that loan today.”
Carlson said conservation work, much like other investments, should be viewed in the long term rather than short-term payback.
“I think if you view the money you spend on conservation as a five year investment, I don’t think it would be a great deal but if you look at it for the long term, yes, it pays for itself many times,” he said.
“Over the long term, you get the advantage of saving the soil and in turn having better crops.”
Using your local NRCS office is the first step toward sound conservation measures, according to Carlson.
“I would tell others the NRCS has resources, and it’s not like they charge you for their advice,” he said. “They have a lot of technical expertise in designing terraces and other conservation practices and offer numerous designs and options.
“They’re really good about working with the farmer to get the ground so it’s workable.”
Carlson said it’s an unexpected honor to be recognized for his conservation work.
“I thought it was neat to win this award,” he said. “I was totally surprised but it makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing spending money for conservation. It’s like a nice pat on the back.”