Young Farmer: Carlsons continue conservation legacy for the new generation


Young Micah and Olivia, Bethany and Eric Carlson stand in a waterway under construction on a new quarter section of land.

Soil conservation runs in the Carlson family blood. So in one sense it?s no surprise that Eric Carlson would be named this year?s Young Conser?vation Farmer Award winner.

Carlson, 27, who lives in Marion with wife Bethany, 21⁄2-year-old daughter Olivia and 2-month-old son Micah, said the conservation influence in his life goes back at least two generations in the Lincolnville area in northeastern Marion County.

?It probably goes back to my grandfather,? said the Centre High School alum. ?But it?s kind of been a family thing.

?My dad (Ronnie) builds terraces for people,? Carlson added. ?And he does all his own terraces. We?ve got the equipment to do it and we?ve got a high-loader that we sometimes use to help with that.

?My dad always worked to get all of his land to have waterways and terraces. So it kind of comes naturally.?

But Carlson has established his own track record on his first quarter-section of land, which he acquired about five years ago while working toward an engineering degree at Kansas State University.

The work Carlson is being recognized for includes maintaining 2.7 acres of critical planting, 5,372 acres of terraces and 700 feet of diversion terraces so far. Some of the terraces are parallel and a few more need to be built next year.

?It was only natural that with this first piece of land that we bought, we had a couple of terraces staked and put in two longer terraces along the front and short one in the back,? he said. Of course, the project was hands-on for the Carlson clan.

?I?ve helped some in the past too,? Carlson said. ?My dad runs his equipment and he might bring the highloader over and I?d help push out terraces. I?ve done a fair amount of work helping to stake things. We used to have a transit and now we have a laser level.?

Carlson?s involvement in farming is on a spare-time basis. He has put his college degree to work as a full-time engineer at Hillsboro Industries.

Though the extended family has a mutual ?help as needed? policy, Eric?s farming operation is officially separate from his father?s and older brother Lucas?s.

Late in 2008, the threesome did purchase an additional quarter-section of ground in the area.

?It?s got a lot more conservation that we?re working on putting in,? Eric said. ?We?ve already put in a diversion to help get it into compliance.

?The plan is to work with the Conservation Service to get in on the EQIP program and get that whole farm terraced,? he said.

?There?s a lot of feet of terraces that are going to have to be done,? Carlson added. ?Some of the waterways and grass are established, but it may include some drop terraces. But there?ll be a lot of feet of terraces that will probably be put in over the next few years. ?

Carlson said he is a believer in investing in soil-conservation practices on a piece of land as soon as possible.

?If you?re going to make that investment, you need to do it up front or else it doesn?t make as much sense because you get less value out of it,? he said.

?Plus, working with the Conservation Service office, and being able to get some cost-share to get things done?it makes it more affordable.?

Conservation practices also make the land easier to farm, he added.

?You?re not having ditches in your field and you?re not having to deal with issues like that,? he said.

Carlson has raised wheat, corn and milo on his quarter-section, with plans to plant some soybeans this spring. He uses alfalfa in his crop rotation too.

A small part of his quarter-section is pasture, which he has used to background cattle in the summer. Even there, Carlson is careful to incorporate proper grazing and other grassland-management strategies.

?I?m trying to remove trees that were in the pasture that were kind of overtaking it,? he cited as an example. ?It?s been almost five years now that we?ve owned it and we?re still finishing up on trees. But you only get so much time when you?re not working at it full-time.?

Even though Carlson?s connection with conservation is longstanding, he said he was a little surprised when he was notified that he would be receiving this year?s Young Conserva?tion Farmer Award.

?At the time I had only one piece of land and we hadn?t done a ton of conservation work on it?a couple of terraces, but it wasn?t a real big project,? he said.

?There really aren?t that many young farmers, and there aren?t a lot that are doing conservation practices,? he added. ?At some point, there?s going to have to be young farmers coming back in.?

Carlson said he has appreciated the working relationship he has with the conservation office in Marion County.

?It can be said that the conservation office here is very good to work with,? Carlson said. ?They will work with you to lay out things that meet the specs they want, and yet make it as easy to farm as possible?whether it be trying to run terraces straight or parallel or things like that.?

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