Dale Zell farms all over the place: Cass, Howard, White, Miami and Clinton counties, to be exact.
But the 75-year-old farmer knows that someday someone else will be farming the land, so he’s doing his best to be a good steward.
He’s put down rip-rap around outlets. He’s built drainage structures to keep field surface run-off from cutting channels in the earth. And he’s installed grass filter strips in areas where water finds the path of least resistance.
All of those projects have cost money, money that Zell knows he can’t recoup in a year or two. But he does it anyway, thanks in part to matching grant programs through the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“I’m thankful for the privilege of farming, and I want to keep the land for the next generation,” he said.
This month, Zell and his wife, Nancy, were honored as one of 46 “River Friendly Farms” in the state by the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
Zell has been working with the local soil and water district office on projects for years and they nominated him for the honor, which is given annually to producers whose farm management practices protect Indiana’s soil and water resources.
The Zells farm a total of about 600 acres, centered around their homestead in Ervin Township. They’ve adopted many of the conservation practices that have become more and more standard over the years, such as minimally tilling the soil before planting corn, and rotating corn and soybean crops every year.
“It probably takes six to eight years to get the actual cash back on some of the projects, but it’s better for the fields,” Zell said of his soil conservation practices.
Calvin Hartman, resource conservationist at the Howard County Soil & Water Conservation District, said some farmers still use a moldboard plow to completely turn over the soil after harvesting corn, a practice which leaves the soil vulnerable to erosion.
But if that’s the way a field has been plowed for years, it’s a costly process to switch to a minimum till process, he said.
“It can sometimes take three to seven years to rebuild the soil structure to where you don’t take a yield hit, if you’re used to tilling the field every year,” Hartman said.
Right now, it’s a pretty good time to be a farmer in north central Indiana. Last year, even with drought devastating southern Indiana, high crop prices and just enough rain in this area made it a banner year for farmers like Zell.
The fact he’s literally plowing some of his profits back into his fields was something state and local officials felt worthy of notice.
“You just want to keep the farms clean; the next generation’s going to have enough problems without that,” Zell said.
“We do the planting, and we do the harvesting, but God makes the increase. He’s the one we give all the praise to,” Zell said. “I’m just thankful for his watchful care over us.”
Scott Smith can be reached at 765-454-8569 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Past Howard County River Friendly farmers 2012 Byrum Livestock Farms/ Steve Byrum and Makin Bacon Farms/Richard Byrum (co-winners) 2011 B and S Trucking Partnership/Steve and Brad Winger 2010 Rhine Farms/John Rhine 2009 Rex Stites Farms/Jim and Ron Stites 2008 Dave Carter and Ronald Newhouse (co-winners) 2007 Shane Campbell