Grass Buffer Award: Landowner has a bird’s-eye view on the value of the land


This is an example of one of the buffer strategies in place on the land Robert Barb owns in Marion County.


Robert Barb has seen agriculture in much of the world in his profession as an aircraft pilot. He has observed that market and soil conservation concerns are very similar to those in the United States in places like Europe.

He said that this, plus a desire to retire in the country and care for the land, has helped drive him toward the events that made him the soil conservation Buffer Award winner this year.

But Barb said the award really should go toward a team effort and not just to him. He credits retired soil conservationist Gary Schuler with the inspiration and ideas to get the job done, and his tenant farmer, Mike Combs, with the know-how to establish native-grass species.

Between them, Barb and Combs seeded big bluestem, sideoats grama, indiangrass, switchgrass, little bluestem and a number of forbs as approved cover crop on 4.2 acres of Conservation Reserve Program in 2004 bordering 30 feet of each side of what Combs calls a wet-weather stream.

SCS staff said the buffer area along the stream helped contain an area that might have been problematic with erosion and small ditches.

Barb began his conservation program in 1987 by shaping and seeding three acres of waterway to be used as terrace outlets for cropland erosion control.

He and Combs also seeded 10.4 acres in other areas to straighten the field boundary, and planted shrubs and food plots to make ?a nice corridor for wildlife.? The native grass provides cover, nesting area and food for wildlife.

At one time Barb and his wife, Debra, thought they would retire to the Lincolnville farm after his military career. Debra?s parents are Don and Joyce Kemble of Herington.

But today they live in McKinney, Texas, where he pilots aircraft for United Parcel Service predominantly from the United States to Europe.

He was an Air Force helicopter pilot during the Vietnam era, and then became a fighter pilot.

The Barbs also own land in Missouri that is in the soil conservation program.

?I want to build the soil, and stop erosion wherever I can,? he said. ?I want to leave the land better than I found it.?

Combs also uses other conservation measures in his grain-and-cattle farming operation that, like Barb?s buffer, ?help keep the water clean.?

One of those, no-till farming, not only is a good conservation measure, but has become an economic necessity, he said.

?It?s probably what everyone will have to do,? Barb said. ?It really saves a lot of money on fuel. You still have to spend money on fertilizer, but everybody has to find ways to save on inputs.?

Combs and his son, Patrick, who also works in town, run a 50-cow herd unique in the area for color. While most neighbors run black or red cattle, the Combs have Charolais, the all-white breed.

Barb said he finds conservation concerns a little different between Kansas and Missouri. In Missouri, with areas of native forest cleared for fescue pastures, officials are more concerned about run-off of fertilizer from pastures.

?But,? he said, ?it?s all about soil conservation and clean water in either place.?

More from Hillsboro Free Press
Letters (July 22, 2009)
An open letter from the jail committee   The members of the...
Read More