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August 23, 2013

Local farmer keeps everything in its place

Zell family honored as "River Friendly" farmers

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.

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