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TABLE it to the

The annual Spring special section, which publishes in both The Star Press in Muncie and The Palladium-Item in Richmond, spotlights area farmers as well as industry trends and news.






TABLE it to the

From Indiana to India: Local farmer impressed with country’s progress. Page 4

The Rising Cost of Farming: Cost of ag business has grown as technology advances. Page 16

Honoring Hoosier Homestead Farms: Family farms awarded distinction. Page 8

Protecting the Environment: River-friendly farming keeps topsoil where it’s needed. Page 18

A Piece of Indiana History: The Mitchell family farm serves as local history lesson. Page 10

Keeping the Middle Fork Safe: Don Berger takes river-friendly farming seriously. Page 20

Off the Beaten Path: The Stampers grow non-traditional veggies on their Greensfork farm. Page 14

Getting a Head Start: Some farmers planting spring wheat in warm weather. Page 22



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Indiana From


Local farmer impressed on visit to India



ne of the world’s fastest-growing economies, India is home to 1.2 billion people, and the country has an agricultural sector that is on the brink of major advancements, according to Eugene Whitehead, a local farmer and the co-chairman of the Delaware County Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers. Recently back from a 12-day tour that took him with 26 other farmers to a variety of agricultural facilities in India, Whitehead said the trip was organized by the AgrIInstitute of Indiana to facilitate international cooperation. “The AgrIInstitute focuses on building future leaders, and a trip like this can help develop understanding that could open communication for “By our standards they future partnerships that may develstill do a lot of things op,” he said. Activities during the trip included primitively, but they are daily visits to farms and food processing facilities as well as meetings right there on the cusp with Indian farmers and officials. of technology in terms One of Whitehead’s observations: While Indian farmers do not yet of plant genetics and employ technology as extensively as the types of equipment do their American counterparts, this is changing quickly. being used on farms. In “By our standards they still do a lot of things primitively, but they are India, they’re also just right there on the cusp of technol- beginning to implement ogy in terms of plant genetics and the types of equipment being used some of the safety and on farms,” Whitehead explained. “In technological practices India, they’re also just beginning to implement some of the safety and that have become technological practices that have common here.” become common here.” Yet, in other areas such as recy- — EUGENE WHITEHEAD cling, he said, India has become quite advanced. “Many parts of India are crowded almost beyond the imagination of someone from a less-populated country, but this has led India to make extensive use of recycling to preserve and make the best use of their resources,” he said. “Seeing this just re-affirms the need for us to take care of our land and environment here in the United States.” Of course, India has a different mix of agricultural products than the U.S. owing to climate differences as well as different food customs and preferences. “As a livestock farmer, one difference that immediately stands out is that they do not eat a lot of meat in India,” Whitehead said. “It’s funny to go into a McDonald’s and see a sign on the wall that says they do not serve beef or pork. “However, the dairy associations in India are immense, and we had the chance to go through a dairy processing plant.” CONTINUED ON PAGE 6

Eugene Whitehead, local farmer, traveled to India on a trip organized by the AgrIInstitute of Indiana, to facilitate international cooperation. Whitehead, above left) was impressed with what he saw. At left, Whitehead also toured the country and visited the Taj Mahal. PHOTOS PROVIDED BY EUGENE WHITEHEAD



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“People there are friendly. In a big city here you might not always find the friendliest of people, but in India we were welcomed everywhere we went; everyone offers tea or coffee and crackers or cookies, regardless of whether you’re in a big place like the embassy or a small rug shop.” — EUGENE WHITEHEAD

The crops in India are also different, with more emphasis on oil seeds and canola, Whitehead noted, rather than the corn and soybeans common in Indiana and other parts of the Midwest. The hospitality of people in India was something Whitehead noticed everywhere he went. “People there are friendly,” he said. “In a big city here you might not always find the friendliest of people, but in India we were welcomed everywhere we went; everyone offers tea or coffee and crackers or cookies, regardless of whether you’re in a big place like the embassy or a small rug shop.”

Delaware County Farm Bureau Young Farmers

Back in Indiana, Whitehead’s position as co-chairman of Delaware County Farm Bureau Young Farmers involves helping coordinate charitable efforts and working to increase public awareness of issues affecting agriculture. Consisting mainly of farmers between the ages of 18 and 35, the group has assisted the Second Harvest Food Bank and other organizations, arranged activities for National Agriculture Week and sent representatives to Indianapolis in January or February to meet with legislators. Issues now affecting all farmers, especially younger ones, include inheritance and property taxes as well as increasing the public’s knowledge of Right to Farm laws, he said. “Inheritance taxes place a burden on the family farm and affect younger farmers, in particular,” Whitehead said. “When a parent passes away and the farm is passed down from generation to generation, the young farmer may lose from 10 to 33 percent of his or her assets.” And, as increasing numbers of city-dwellers move to the country, the need for the public to understand Right to Farm legislation is also a concern. “The Right to Farm law was just reaffirmed, and it simply says that the agriculture community has the right to farm the ground as long as we follow all of the rules and regulations,” Whitehead said. “We try to be good neighbors, but people need to understand that if they choose to live next to a grain or livestock farm, there are things that will happen, such as the use of equipment, that they need to be aware of.” The vast majority of people who live near farms understand these issues, he added, but the Right to Farm law is necessary to address isolated problems that occur. Eugene Whitehead, left, spent two weeks in India studying farming in the country. The photo is of spices in an open market in New Delhi. PHOTO BY KYLE EVENS



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Hoosier Honoring

HOMESTEAD farms The Hoosier Homestead distinction honors Indiana farms that have been owned by the same family for more than 100 years



stablished in 1976 by Robert Orr, then the lieutenant governor of Indiana, the Hoosier Homestead Farm program is administered by the Indiana State Department of Agriculture to recognize Indiana farms that have been owned by the same family for 100 years or more, according to the program website. Longstanding farms can be honored with a Centennial, Sesquicentennial or a Bicentennial award commemorating 100, 150 or 200 years of ownership. Since the program began, more than 5,000 Indiana farms have been so honored. “The program recognizes farms that have been owned by the same family for 100 years or more, and stresses the contributions these family farms have made to the economic, cultural and social advancement of Indiana,” the Indiana State Department of Agriculture’s website says. A statement issued by the Purdue University Cooperative Extension notes that living and working on a family farm is an opportunity available to fewer people now than in the past. “Growing up on a family farm is something that very few ever get to experience,” the Purdue Extension says. “It is a treasured part of an individual’s life that provides them with a sense of pride and accomplishment as they help out on the farm that was once owned by a relative they may or may not have met. However, as the economy and landscape has changed, the number of true family farms has decreased.” Hoosier Homestead Farm Award ceremonies are held each February at the Indiana Statehouse and each August at the Indiana State Fair. During 2011, five area farms received Hoosier Homestead Awards. In February, the Brian and Jessica Kitterman family of Blackford County received a Sesquicentennial award for their family’s farm, which was established in 1856. Two Wayne County families were honored at the same ceremony. The Ruth Louise Doerstler family received a Centennial award for their farm, which was established in 1910, and the Lori Lee Tice family received a Centennial award for their farm, which was founded in 1909. In August, the Kevin L. Hernly farm of Randolph County, established in 1898, received a Centennial award, as did the Toschlog farm of Wayne County, which was founded in 1888. Families owning farms that might be eligible to recognized as Hoosier Homestead Farms can download application materials on the program website, isda/2337.htm The application deadline for the February award ceremony is Dec. 1, and the deadline for the August ceremony is June 1.



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piece A

of Indiana


The Mitchell family farm serves as local history lesson By KEN WICKLIFFE


Photos by KYLE EVENS

ounded just 23 years after Indiana became a state and recognized as a Sesquicentennial Hoosier Homestead farm, the Mitchell farm in Delaware County’s Harrison Township is both the mainstay of a local family and a resource shared freely with others in the community. Currently managing the 273-acre cattle, grain and poultry operation are Larry Mitchell and his wife, Vickie. As has been the case throughout the history of the Mitchell’s farm, the family members running it have also pursued second careers. Larry is a fourth-grade teacher at Monroe Central Elementary School, and Vickie teaches pharmacology as well as administration classes at Ivy Tech Community College. Teaching students about Indiana history is part of Larry’s curriculum at school, but his family’s farm represents a history lesson in itself. In recognition of that, each of his classes visits the farm once or twice a year for a “fall fling,” a “spring fling” or both. With Larry’s current class, the Mitchells this past fall celebrated the 50th time a group of students have visited the farm. In all, more than 2,000 Monroe Central youngsters, often accompanied by their parents, have had the opportunity to spend a day getting in touch with the land as well as meeting the Mitchells’ cows, donkeys and chickens. Sarah Mitchell Parker, one of Larry and Vickie’s daughters, is also a teacher, and she has begun taking her special education students from Albany Elementary School to the Mitchell farm. In this way, the tradition of bringing school children to the farm will continue even after Larry retires from teaching. Pictures on the living room wall of the farmhouse, and features the house has acquired over the years, commemorate different periods in the history of one of the county’s oldest continuouslyoperating farms. “Jacob W. Miller, my great-greatgreat-grandfather, founded this farm in 1839 after having walked here from Madison, Ind., where he had arrived by traveling down the Ohio River on a flatboat,” Larry said. He noted that Miller’s original venture was farming, but he also operated a business selling steel bridges. At that time much of the area on and near the farm was wooded, so a sawmill was soon built on Jake’s Creek, the waterway named after the founder and running along the south edge of the farm. CONTINUED ON PAGE 12

“Jacob W. Miller, my great-great-greatgrandfather, founded this farm in 1839 after having walked here from Madison, Ind., where he had arrived by traveling down the Ohio River on a flatboat.” — LARRY MITCHELL

TOP: Izabella Mitchell poses with one of the farm’s minature donkeys. RIGHT: The sixth, seventh and eighth generations of Mitchells on the family farm in western Delaware County. Jake Mitchell holding Isaac Mitchell, Vicky and Larry Mitchell Jennifer Powers and son Luke Powers, Izabella Mitchell and Sarah Parker.



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TOP: Luke Powers, Isaac Mitchell and Izabella Mitchell feed a recently born calf on the Mitchell farm. Above: The eighth generation of Mitchell farmers, Luke Powers and Isaac Mitchell, try to round up a twomonth-old calf. RIGHT: The Mitchell Farm and founder Jacob W. Miller.


As motorists today drive west on Bethel Pike from Muncie, they cross Jake’s Creek on the section of Bethel that jogs due north as the road combines for a short distance with Delaware County Road 700-W. In the decades that followed the establishment of the farm, Mitchell explained, drovers often herded cattle through Delaware County, loading the animals onto trains at Reed Station and at other points, so the farmhouse was subdivided into two sections during the late 1800s. In this way, temporary lodging could be rented to the drovers. While the home is no longer subdivided, a second front door remains as a reminder of that part of the farm’s history. Before and during the Depression, Larry’s father, Bernell, worked at the Bethel Store, just up the road from the Mitchell farm, earning 10 cents an hour. “My grandfather passed away when my dad was 15, so my dad started working at that time,” Larry said. He noted that the average annual income at that time — the late 1920s — was only $300 a year, so the salary his father earned was actually quite good. Located at the intersection of Bethel Pike and County Road 775 West, the building that was once the Bethel Store still stands, but it is no longer used commercially. Another nearby landmark, the Bethel Church, is built on land donated by the Mitchell family. Just before Christmas each year the Bethel Church operates a live nativity scene that features some of the animals from the family’s farm. Currently the farm is being subdivided, with family members living on and operating different sections, so the original farm is now home to several branches of the extended family. While Larry and Vickie acknowledge that large-scale agriculture is necessary today to meet the needs of a growing world population, they believe that a smaller farm like theirs still has an important place not only for individual families but also for agriculture in general. “Over the years, farmers have been the stewards of the land, and farming gives people the sense of being connected to the land and to history,” Larry said. “We want to leave the ground to future generations in better condition than it was when we began working it. “There’s also a sense of family. Running a farm like this is not about one individual, but about family members working together, and parents and grandparents passing this on to the next generation,” he added. And as people become more interested in food quality and the sources of their food


supply, Vickie said, buying from local producers is one way for people to know what they’re eating. “Our cattle and chickens are all freerange,” she said. “We operate a small business selling freezer-beef to friends, and of course members of our family rarely have to buy beef in stores.” Family farms also make for strong intergenerational connections, Vickie said. Rather than being relatives to be visited on holidays and other special occasions, grandparents on a family farm are much more likely to be involved with their grandchildren every day and to retain an active role on the farm well past what many consider a normal retirement age. As the children who grow up on a family farm marry and start their own families, many choose to remain involved with the life they came to appreciate. In 2010, Sarah’s wedding was held at the farm. She married Dustin Parker in a ceremony held in the part of the field that lies just east of the family’s home, and the young couple now participate actively in running the farm. “We work here out of a sense of respect and pride,” Sarah said, recalling with fondness the messages she got while she was a student at Wes-Del High School when it was necessary to hurry home and corral a cow that had managed to get through a fence and was headed toward Alexandria. The Mitchells’ son, Jake, is also involved with the farm operations, and his other job is also in the field of agriculture: He works for Geoponic, assisting local farmers with the GPS mapping of fields to determine optimal planting and chemical application levels. Daughter Jennifer Mitchell Powers is no longer involved with running the farm dayto-day, but she is quick to point out that she remains connected to it. “I would return to working on the farm tomorrow if it became necessary to keep it going,” she said. The Mitchells’ three grandchildren — Isabella, Luke and Isaac — represent the family’s eighth generation locally. While Luke and Isaac are too young to participate actively in any farming activities, Isabella, age 10, has already completed 4-H projects in sewing, foods, swine, steers, heifers and feeder calves. All members of the Mitchell family seem to agree on one thing: The chance to operate a family farm today is a gift. “God has blessed us with an opportunity, and Vickie and I have the job of passing this on to future generations,” Larry said. “God willing, I would like for us to see this farm reach 200 years of family ownership, which will happen in 2039.”



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“I sell very little at home. Jungle Jim’s takes care of the marjority of what we grow. Because I know other growers, I’ve also helped Jungle Jim’s find some products in the area they were looking.” — JERRY STAMPER

ABOVE: Jerry Stamper looks at his Swiss Chard he grows in his Greensfork area greenhouse for Jungle Jim’s in Middletown Ohio RIGHT: Bok Choy grows in one of Jerry Stamper’s greenhouses.




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Off the


The Stampers grow non-traditional vegetables on their Greensfork farm



erry and Janet Stamper are farmers, but you won’t see corn and soybeans growing on their farm. Kale, bok choy, eggplant, peppers, specialty potatoes and Brussel spouts are a few of the 30 vegetable varieties on nearly 3 acres. Most of their produce is sold directly to regional produce powerhouse Jungle Jim’s International Market in Fairfield, Ohio. The grocery, which has 1.5 acres of produce on display, is a destination for foodies looking for menu items off the beaten path. The Stampers started growing wholesale vegetables five years ago on their Fox Road farm in Wayne County. Jerry, 55, who had helped farmers while growing up, worked in a factory for 25 years before launching the produce business. Janet, 56, who grew up on a farm, helps with the farm work and works as a nurse at Reid Hospital in Richmond. “I learned by doing,” Jerry said. “I asked a lot of questions. A lot of young kids would like to farm, but who can afford to start (traditional farming) on their own? This is a way of farming in a different style.” The couple also enrolled in the Purdue Extension Master Gardener program in Wayne County. Both now are Master Gardeners and say the Extension Service is an excellent resource for them when they have questions. The Stampers have been selling produce to Jungle Jim’s for about three years, after friends with connections to retailer introduced them. The unusal grocery, which is expanding to a second location in northern Cincinnati, caters to a growing ethnic market by supplying produce not usually grown in the Midwest, the Stampers said. Freshness is everything in the produce business. Jerry delivers vegetables within 24 hours of picking, making the nearly 100-mile round trip once or twice a week. “I sell very little at home. Jungle Jim’s takes care of the marjority of what we grow,” Jerry said. “Because I know other growers, I’ve also helped Jungle Jim’s find some products in the area they were looking.”

Quality is also extremely important in selling produce, the Stampers say. Their produce is not organically grown, and they still lose some because it’s not perfect, Jerry said. “We probably throw away a lot that most people wouldn’t reject,” Jerry said. Swiss chard, spinach and kale grow in the high tunnel in later winter and early spring. Potatoes, onions, Brussel sprouts, leeks, eggplants and tomatoes are planted in the field. Eggplants are a specialty crop for the Stampers, who sell nine different kinds, a roster that includes white, green, orange, black, long and short. The search for new or unusual seed varieties begins in early October. Jerry pours over the catalogs, using input from Jungle Jim’s on what they’d like to sell the next year. Seed is ordered in the fall so it will be available when it’s time to start seedling in the greenhouse. This year they’ll grow a new German cabbage variety that’s used for sauerkraut, Jerry said. Kale and Swiss chard plants were started in January this year, with kale ready to deliver to Jungle Jim’s the third week in March. The couple also carefully times their plantings so they don’t have too many crops ready at one time that require “back” labor, Jerry said. Vegetable farming is physical work, but the Stampers say producing quality food requires the passion of an artist. “You’ve got to love to do this because of the labor it requires,” Jerry said. “There’s a sense of pride. You see all this stuff growing and you know you did it,” Janet said. Loving your work doesn’t always mean it’s profitable. Jerry laughed when asked if he was earning a living selling produce. “We haven’t started making a living at it yet,” Janet said,” but we’re getting close. I can some of what we grow, which helps us.” Not all of an occupation’s benefits are tangible. The Stampers say they find much fulfillment in their work with sun and soil. “There’s nothing any more exciting than opening a seed packet, putting the seed in a peat pot and in seven days, that seed’s come alive,” Jerry said.

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rising The

cost of


Cost of ag business has grown as technology advances

“It’s hard to figure out a fair amount of cash rent, especially in an environment with so much potential for quick commodity price declines and input price surges. We don’t want to see another 2009 where grain prices dropped, costs increased and profitability disappeared. It’s a challenging risk management environment for the farmers.” — ALAN MILLER, A PURDUE UNIVERSITY AGRICULTURAL ECONOMIST




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hile prices for many farm implements have increased markedly over the past 30 years, other expenses such as land rent and fertilizer actually play a more significant role in determining a farmer’s overall level of profitability, according to a local farm equipment dealer as well as a Purdue University agricultural economist. Rex Wiseman, a sales representative at the Muncie location of Reynolds Farm Equipment, noted that he has seen prices of some implements increase nearly tenfold since he began selling farm equipment in 1978. “A tractor or combine that sold for $37,000 in 1978 may now cost $300,000,” he said. “Not only is equipment more technically advanced now, but everything that goes into the equipment manufacturing process, such as steel and labor, now costs more.” The inclusion of GPS (global positioning system) technology that helps automate certain operations and makes for more accurate planting and chemical application is an example of an advancement that has made some implements more sophisticated and costly, he said. “Farmers are willing to pay for innovations that will result in less waste and greater efficiency,” Wiseman said. But the costs associated with some other agricultural inputs have risen even faster than prices of equipment. “Cash rents and chemicals have shot to the moon,” he said. Wiseman’s impressions are supported by a recent analysis conducted by Alan Miller, a Purdue University agricultural economist. Miller compared last year’s farming costs with those forecast for the upcoming growing season. He found that volatile fertilizer prices and surging farmland rental costs will make these two categories of expenses the primary forces driving farmers’ costs up during 2012. “Preliminary budgets show variable costs for rotation corn increasing by 16 percent, soybeans by 15 percent and wheat by 12 percent as compared with our January 2011 budgets,” Miller said in a news release. Seed prices are also forecast to increase five to 10 percent this year, he added, while pesticide prices will vary depending on the product used. Land rental expenses will also go up this year, the Purdue agricultural economist predicted. Like fuel prices, land rental expenses can be influenced by many social and economic forces outside a farmer’s control. “It’s hard to figure out a fair amount of cash rent, especially in an environment with so much potential for quick commodity price declines and input price surges,” Miller said. “We don’t want to see another 2009 where grain prices dropped, costs increased and profitability disappeared. It’s a challenging risk management environment for the farmers.” He encourages farmers to establish flexible lease agreements for the land they farm if it is possible to do so. “Try to help landowners understand the market and the volatility,” Miller said. “Possibly look at flexible lease agreements instead of locking in cash rents in case inputs increase and commodity prices stay where they are at now or fall even further.” In the future, Wiseman said, further technical advancement of equipment may allow for expense reductions in the form of lower labor costs. “The ability to have driverless tractors is already here; John Deere has had this technology for a while,” he said. “The big concern of customers has been liability.” Farmers worry that a tractor driven only by a computer could malfunction and go out of control, Wiseman explained. The solution thus far has been to automate certain facets of tractor operation while still having an operator present who could re-assume full manual control if necessary. As in all years, weather will remain a hard-to-predict variable affecting farmers during the upcoming spring and summer, he added. While technology has made crops more drought-resistant, a host of other weather-related factors remain. “We will always depend on the good Lord to give us good weather,” Wiseman said.

Some of the new farming equipment seen at Reynolds Farm Equipment in Muncie: LEFT: The new John Deere DB 60 Row Planter. TOP: The John Deere StarFire GPS system. ABOVE: The interior of the new John Deere 9410 tractor.

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Protecting the ENVIRONMENT River-friendly farming keeps topsoil where it’s needed

A natural filter strip of 60 feet between the tilled ground and the river bed on a farm along 700 East.




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ollowing the best available practices to prevent valuable topsoil from being washed away and keep agricultural chemicals out of waterways is known as “river-friendly farming,” and several local farmers have been recognized for their achievements in this facet of environmental protection over the past several years, according to Debra Carpenter of the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. Sam Harris, whose farm borders the White River near Prairie Creek Reservoir in the southeastern portion of Delaware County, received one of the agency’s “River-Friendly Farmer” awards in 2010. To protect the nearby waterway, Harris maintains a “filter strip” between the land he farms and the river itself. “The filter strip can consist of trees or a crop that’s planted but not harvested,” Harris said, adding that the root structure of trees and other plants helps to hold the soil in place. On Harris’s farm, a wide tree line is maintained to achieve this buffer zone between agricultural land and the river. “Having the river full of valuable topsoil isn’t good for the river, and it’s extremely harmful for farmers, too, because we’ve already lost so much topsoil over the years,” he said. Keeping fertilizers out of the river also prevents phosphates and nitrates from reaching water supplies, Harris added. Over the past 15 years, he said, water quality tests have been performed on the river near his farm, and these tests have verified the effectiveness of river-friendly farming practices. While the job of keeping rivers free of soil and chemicals might seem most pressing for those located on or near a waterway, all farmers and even city residents play and important role, Carpenter said. As the IASWCD’s regional technician/district administrator, she has studied the topography and soil of this area and found that several natural and human-created fac“Certain species tors make river-friendly farming especially important in Indiana and nearby states. of fish, such as Over the years, Carpenter said, the qualtrout, cannot live in ity of the soil in the eastern Corn Belt, made up of Indiana, Ohio and parts of Michigan water that’s heavy and Illinois, has been compromised by the amount of heavy rainfall received here, as with sediment. well as the combination of rolling and flat In addition, as terrain. “The conditions here make erosion increasing amounts more likely than in some other areas of of sediment build up the country such as Iowa or the Dakotas, where there is more of a dry-land climate,” in a river or other Carpenter explained. “In addition, after waterway, the water years and years of plowing, our soil contains less organic matter and does not hold has less area to flow, water as well.” As a result, she said, the typical Indiana so flooding becomes summertime pattern of warm, dry perimore likely, as well.” ods alternating with heavy rainfall during storms may cause rainwater simply to run — DEBRA CARPENTER, OF off, carrying topsoil with it, rather than supTHE INDIANA ASSOCIATION plying the needed moisture to crops. OF SOIL AND WATER Other factors that have affected erosion CONSERVATION DISTRICTS patterns over the years include the construction of drainage tiles and ditches, as well as some projects undertaken during the 1800s to artificially straighten creeks and other small waterways. By speeding the movement of water, these drainage systems and stream alterations have increased soil erosion, she said. And in cities, the paving of large areas and the construction of residential neighborhoods right up to the banks of waterways has also fostered erosion and resulted in more sediment finding its way into rivers and streams, Carpenter added. “Certain species of fish, such as trout, cannot live in water that’s heavy with sediment,” she said. “In addition, as increasing amounts of sediment build up in a river or other waterway, the water has less area to flow, so flooding becomes more likely, as well.” The River-Friendly Farmer Award Program recognizes many of those who have made special efforts to protect Indiana’s surface waterways, but a large number of farmers deserve credit, Carpenter said. “You still see the occasional farm that’s plowed right up to the ditch, but this is becoming much rarer,” she said. “Some people see farmers as the culprit, but more and more farmers are implementing these riverfriendly practices.” To further improve the condition of waterways, cities and towns can augment the efforts of farmers by looking at such projects as better sewer systems and by implementing more river-friendly development practices, Carpenter said. Since the establishment of the River-Friendly Farmer Award Program in 1999, the IASWCD has recognized more than 600 farmers across Indiana for good production management practices that are keeping Indiana’s rivers, streams and lakes clean, according to an IASWCD brochure describing the program. Farmers can be nominated for the program by contacting the Soil and Water Conservation District office in the county where the farm is located. The River-Friendly Farmer Award Program is sponsored by the IASWCD as well as the Indiana Department of Agriculture Division of Soil Conservation, the Indiana Farm Bureau, Purdue University Cooperative Extension and the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service.

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Keeping the

Middle Fork


Don Berger takes river-friendly farming seriously on his Wayne County farm



hen Don Berger watches the Middle Fork flow through his Wayne County farm, he knows being a river farmer carries a lot of responsibility. The Middle Fork of the Whitewater River is scenic, and also provides about half of the city of Richmond’s drinking water supply. Educating farmers on farming practices that make the city’s drinking water safer is a job Berger and other members of the Friends of Middle Fork Steering Committee accepted several years ago. Initially assisted by state and federal grants that now are gone, the Friends of the Middle Fork decided to continue on their own to promote good farming practices in the watershed . “It’s not a matter of dollars,” Berger said. “These people feel it’s important enough that we need to continue to keep the public and farmers aware of the need to protect the water.” Friends includes farmers, a retired university professor, a water company representative, a farm supply employee, a real estate agent and the county surveyor. Wayne County retired farmer George Bihl has about 40 acres in the Middle Fork watershed. He said the group hopes to keep its clean water mission alive. “It’s a worthy project and you can learn so much. I know we’ve affected the water quality,” Bihl said. Rich Nicholson, Indiana-American Water Co. supervisor for environmental compliance and water quality, said there’s good evidence the group’s efforts have improved drinking water quality in the Middle Fork Reservoir. Atrazine is a popular agricultural herbicide that kills grass, and its wide use in the watershed showed in drinking water levels. It’s a chemical the water company must mostly remove, using charcoal filtration. “There’s been a consistent and significant drop in the levels of atrazine in the reservoir,” Nicholson said. “We don’t measure sediment, but I imagine that it has also declined.”

Wayne County surveyor Bill Brown said he serves on the committee because he lives in the watershed and he could help with mapping needs. Improving water quality doesn’t happen overnight, he said. “It takes quite a while to make a difference,” Brown said.”We want to keep reinforcing the ideas with landowners.” When soil stays in place, so do the chemicals in the soil. Farmers in the watershed were eligible to receive incentives not to use atrazine and the group also put money into nutrient management, fencing and cover crops to protect the water. Retired Indiana University East professor Dick Roeper, also Friends member, had a ready supply of students who tested Middle Fork water to locate problem areas. The Friends also demonstrated water- and soil-saving farming methods on a 20-acre demonstration plot on Porterfield Road. The plot land was made available by the late Kirby Hiller, Berger said. Hiller’s family agreed to allow the group to continue using the land for demonstrations, Berger said. Harvest Land Co-op is providing all the supplies to grow the demonstation plot this year, Berger said. There’s no shortage of ideas to demonstrate and discuss, he said. “It helps a lot for farmers to be able to come here and see these ideas in person and talk about them. They get more comfortable trying them themselves,” Berger said. “Cover crops do wonders. They hold the soil all year long and lock up nutrients in the roots in the fall. Those nutrients are slowly released in the summer to the growing crop as the roots rot.” Berger also has a personal reason to be concerned about the water quality in the Middle Fork. A retired dairyman, Berger has 10 grown children and 22 grandchildren, youngsters who come to the farm and play by the river, Berger said. The family enjoys a big, annual Labor Day campout by the water that’s now healthier due to the efforts of the Friends of the Middle Fork. “The river runs right through our place. It makes me feel good to think the water is good,” Berger said. “I feel like I have a responsibility to the community to protect the river because it runs right through our property. And I think grandparents have a responsibility to teach conservation to these kids.”



Bringing it to the Table

Don Berger stand near the river that runs through his property near Whitewater, Ind.

SUNDAY, APRIL 1, 2012 • PAGE 21



Bringing it to the Table

PAGE 22 • SUNDAY, APRIL 1, 2012


Getting a

HEAD START Some farmers planting spring wheat in warm weather



Mike Bergeron’s dog, Bogey, rides shotgun as he finishes planting a 308 acre field of spring wheat on March 19, north of Fisher, Minn. It’s the earliest planting start Bergeron has had due to the warm, dry season. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

INNEAPOLIS — Mike Bergeron started sowing wheat on his farm in northwestern Minnesota on St. Patrick’s Day. One week earlier, he was towing two of his daughters on a sled behind his snowmobile. Bergeron and his business partner Jon Ross are among at least a few farmers in the Upper Midwest taking advantage of an unusually mild and dry winter to start planting spring wheat in mid-March. While there could still be a bad frost, they’re taking a calculated risk that the early start will let them reap a bigger crop this summer. “It’s crazy, isn’t it?” Bergeron said with a laugh on Tuesday, the official first day of spring. Experts said that while it’s rare for farmers in the Upper Midwest to plant this early, it’s not crazy. “We’re still on the early side, but that’s the key to having a good wheat crop — it’s planting early,” said Doug Holen, a University of Minnesota Extension educator based in Morris. He said he knows of wheat growers in other parts of Minnesota who also have started planting. Wheat yields tend to be better in cooler weather partly because wheat makes more efficient use of soil moisture the earlier it gets planted. Wheat and other small grains such as barley and oats also aren’t as susceptible to frost damage as corn and soybeans. Those farmers are sitting tight because planting before mid-April doesn’t normally benefit their crops, said Darrell Good, an agricultural economist at the University of Illinois. The key with corn is avoiding late frosts and getting enough warm days over the season, while soybeans have a shorter growing season there’s no urgency to get them planted early, he said. While Kansas is often the country’s top wheat producing state, it grows winter wheat that’s planted in the fall because its summers are too hot and dry. North Dakota, Montana and Minnesota typically are among the spring wheat leaders. Joel Ransom, an extension agronomist at North Dakota State University in Fargo, said while he’s hearing that some wheat growers there are getting

anxious and might be about to start planting, he hasn’t actually seen anyone doing it or spoken with anyone who will soon. While North Dakota also has had a mild, dry winter, the soil there is wetter than in Minnesota and needs to dry a bit more, he said. The ground is also still a little too wet in Montana, said Lola Raska, executive vice president of the Montana Grain Growers Association. She said she hasn’t heard of any wheat being planted there, but some farmers are likely to start sowing barley soon. “As soon as the ground is warm they’ll be out there,” she said. Still, St. Patrick’s Day planting is unusual. Ross’ father, who’s 84 and started their farm near Fisher, has planted at the end of March but never as early as March 17, Bergeron said. Bergeron himself had never planted earlier than April 7. But the men checked with their crop insurance agent and a small-grains specialist, and persuaded skeptics at their local co-op elevator to come out and apply fertilizer last Saturday. Then the rush to plant was on. Bergeron said they have planted 450 acres of wheat and hope by Thursday to be halfway to their goal of 1,200 acres. Eventually, they’ll turn their attention to soybeans, sugar beets and sunflowers for the rest of their 3,800 acres. A key factor in their decision to plant early was that it’s been unusually dry across the Upper Midwest since late last summer. Snow cover was minimal over the winter. Bergeron said there were only 3 to 4 inches of snow on the ground earlier this month when he was giving his daughters rides behind his snowmobile, and it all vanished quickly with the onset of record warm temperatures in the 70s. Fearing the drought might persist into the summer, and with no freezing weather in the mediumterm forecast, Bergeron and Ross decided their odds were better with an early start. Replanting if there’s a freeze would cost about $12,000, but they’re hoping Mother Nature rewards their risk with at least a normal yield for them, perhaps 70 bushels per acre, despite the dry weather. “Mother Nature always has its own mind, though,” Bergeron acknowledged with a laugh.



Bringing it to the Table

SUNDAY, APRIL 1, 2012 • PAGE 23

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Bringing it to the Table


2012 Bringing it to the Table  
2012 Bringing it to the Table  

The annual Spring special section, which publishes in both The Star Press in Muncie and The Palladium-Item in Richmond, spotlights area farm...