By Rich Stemper
Root River SWCD
Special to the Caledonia Argus
Each year the Root River SWCD honors a well deserving conservationist within Houston County. The county is divided into five districts and selects their conservationist on a rotating base. In 2012 the Outstanding Conservationist of the Year was selected from District 4, which consists of Caledonia Township, Mayville Township and Winnebago Township.
Outstanding conservationists are considered through the efforts and commitment that landowners give to protecting our areas natural resources. Recipients of this award are not only leaders in conservation but also community involvement. This year our Outstanding Conservationists are the Kevin and Jim McCormick families. This family operation has been actively involved in farming for over 60 years. Jim began farming in 1949 and was joined by Kevin in 1985, who has since taken over the farm operation.
The McCormick’s raise 350 acres of corn, soybeans and alfalfa hay. Their livestock operation consists of a beef finishing enterprise where they raise and fatten out 300 head of mixed Holstein and beef cattle annually. In addition they own 25 head of beef cow/calf pairs that are managed on pasture.
Manure management is an important component in conservation. You will find that the McCormick’s apply manure to their crop fields generally twice a year based on soil test results and crop yield goals. Manure is incorporated into the soil surface by tillage equipment both in spring and fall applications.
As an eligible producer, Kevin has enrolled 296 acres of ag land into the 2010 Conservation Stewardship Program. Enhancement activities through this agreement include 100 percent recycling of on farm lubricants, reducing pesticide drift during spraying operations and rotation of supplement and feeding areas on their pasture lands. Kevin has planted several trees and shrubs and has enrolled 8.5 acres of forestland into the Conservation Stewardship Program. This enhancement contributes to the management of forest stand improvement for wildlife by creating den trees, snags and woody cover development on the forest floor. With additional enhancements that include the establishing and maintaining of wildlife cover and food plot areas.
McCormick’s farm operation has implemented reduced tillage and residue management along with the planting of fall cover crops. In the fall of 2011, Kevin took advantage of District’s Fall Cover Crop Incentive Program by signing up 30 acres of soybean ground which was planted to oats following harvest.
Through a Conservation Stewardship contract Kevin rotates his livestock supplement and feeding areas to reduce compaction of the soil, reduce high concentrations of nutrients around water sources and that helps improve overall animal health. These practices are important to pasture improvement and management.
Across all the cropland acres that Kevin and his father own and operate, totaling just over 350 acres, the conservation plans for the highly-erodible soils include these four fundamental conservation practices:
• Conservation Tillage System leaving a minimum 30 percent residue after planting.
• Conservation Cropping Sequence which requires a crop rotation of two to three years of row crops, small grains followed by two to three years of established hay.
• Contour farming.
• Contour strip cropping.
In addition to the four practices listed above, Kevin and his father have installed an extensive layout of broad based terraces on their more level fields to help break up the slopes and reduce soil loss on their non-highly erodible fields.
The McCormick’s worked in corporation with the U of MN Extension Service to conduct experimental test plots on fertilizer and insecticide application rates.
Maintaining their crop rotation of corn, soybeans followed by small grain and three to four years of established hay land is their primary defense for pest and disease control. Kevin keeps current on the ever-changing seed corn, soybean and alfalfa hybrid technologies and has learned that regular crop scouting and early detection of potential pest and disease symptoms are vital to successful crop production.
Knowing the importance of buffer practices McCormick has enrolled eight acres of grassed waterways into the Continuous CRP Program. These areas are left in grass legume cover throughout the growing season and are only spot clipped or mowed after the primary nesting season. An additional five acre field adjacent to these grassed waterways is also enrolled in the regular CRP program.
Kevin has always been a strong supporter of wildlife and wildlife habitat. His farming practices are conducted in a manner where he is always concerned about minimal impact or disturbance of wildlife cover. While many producers in the county have elected not to re-enroll lands in CRP. Kevin and his father have kept their CRP contracts in support of soil conservation and wildlife habitat.
Kevin has worked with the SWCD and NRCS for cost share assistance to add and maintain terraces on their farm. In addition to the terraces, they have installed several hundred feet of grassed waterways, which serve as terrace outlets. In 2008 Kevin and his father constructed a grade stabilization structure, which controlled an active gully working back up into the crop land on their home farm.
McCormick is also working with a local native grass distributor in providing production fields for some of their native grass species. He recently harvested a seven acre field of side oats grama to be used by this local distributor.
In addition to the farm operation, Kevin entered into the auctioneering business in 1986. Today he and a partner conduct farm and household auctions on a year-round basis. He has also been very supportive of the Houston County Forage Council assisting them with their quality tested hay auctions for over 25 years. Through Kevin’s involvement with the Houston County Forage Council he has helped bring buyers and sellers together to establish a fair market price for a vital commodity to Houston County.
Kevin is an active member of the Houston County Cattleman’s Association and the NFO. He and his family are active in the Mayville Blue Ribbon Strivers 4-H Club. In addition, McCormick has served an eight year term on the St. Mary’s Parish Council. Combined with their sound stewardship, concern for soil loss protection and their strong involvement with family and civic activities, the Root River SWCD is proud award the McCormick family as our 2012 Outstanding Conservationist.