Conservation methods key to Ediger strategy

Ervin Ediger has been implementing soil conservation practices at his operation west of Hillsboro since moving there some 50 years ago from Okeene, Okla.

?Soil conservation is very important to us,? he said. ?We have to grow food for this population.?

Through the years, most of Ediger?s efforts involved the Scully land he has been leasing. But it was the work done on a 120-acre piece of ground owned by his wife, Carrol, and her sisters that earned the Edigers a Banker Award this year from the Marion County Conserva?tion District.

Since acquiring the land a few years ago, the Edigers have put in 2.9 miles of terraces and 6.5 acres of grassed waterways.

?I?ve always been interested in preserving soil,? Ervin said.

In the past 20 years or so, he also has developed a keen interest in the use of nitrogen fixation of legumes to build and hold the soil.

Ediger had been growing alfalfa for years to feed his beef herd, but was introduced to red clover through the Kansas Rural Center, a non-profit organization based in Whiting that promotes the long-term health of the land and its people through research, education and advocacy.

When he found out in about 1990 that the agronomy department at Kansas State University was looking for locations across the state for red-clover test plots, Ediger signed on. Shortly after, a box came through the mail with enough seed to plant about a half-acre.

?I went out into the middle of the section here and planted it where nobody would see it,? he said with a chuckle. ?That red clover came on so nice, I had a beautiful crop.?

When Ediger baled the crop, he had it analyzed for nutritional value.

?It was nearly as good as the alfalfa,? he said. ?We just went from there.?

Through the years, Ediger has concluded that red clover is as good as alfalfa for providing the soil a natural source of nitrogen. He rotates the clover through his cropland, keeping each stand about two years before switching back to small grains.

It?s an effective strategy.

?Last year, I had a field that came out of red clover the year before, and this was the first year of wheat in it,? he said. ?My other wheat made 47 bushels, this wheat made 55 bushels with no purchased nitrogen.

?It?s in wheat again this year and I expect to go no nitrogen again,? he added. ?Usually you can beat or equal the other wheat. Last year we beat it.

?That?s worth a little bit. With the high cost of fertilizer, it just makes sense to enrich your soil nature?s way as much as possible. You can?t do it all with that, but we try to do as much as we can.?

Ediger said he saves additional money using red clover by growing his own seed. Also, while farmers have to spray alfalfa for weevils every spring, no insect to this point seems to have an interest in consuming red clover.

With a chuckle, Ediger said that?s one reason he doesn?t mind if red clover doesn?t take off among his neighbors.

?I don?t want everybody raising red clover because there?s surely something that eats red clover, too,? he said.

But his neighbors have taken note of Ediger?s efforts, perhaps encouraged by an article about his experiences that appeared several years ago in Kansas Farmer magazine.

?I?ve got a few neighbors trying to raise clover after a good number of years,? he said. ?They see it and they see how it?s working.?

Ironically, this is one year when Ediger won?t have a new stand of red clover to work with. Adverse weather last spring kept the stand from taking root.

?It?s one of those things working with nature?you don?t always win,? he said.

The Banker Award Ediger will receive Saturday is sponsored by the Marion County Bankers Association and the Kansas Bankers Association.

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