A person would be hard-pressed to find a plow on the Kiehl farm. Mainly because the family hasn’t used one in about 20 years.
Don and Barbara Kiehl began the practice of no-till farming in 1992 and haven’t looked back since. Not disturbing the ground is an important aspect of conservation for the Kiehls.
“I think you’re only going to get out of conservation what you put into it,” Don Kiehl said. “We’ve always tried to better what we’ve had.”
The Kiehl family is one of the recipients of the Franklin County Conservation District’s Bankers Awards for 2013. The award is given to farmers and ranchers in Franklin County each year in recognition of their conservation practices. The Kiehls are expected to be honored at the conservation district’s annual meeting at noon Thursday at Celebration Hall, 1737 S. Elm St., Ottawa, at the Franklin County Fairgrounds.
“I think the award does mean quite a bit,” he said.
Composed of about 1,200 acres, the Kiehl homestead also has been home to a dairy northeast of Pomona for about 30 years, starting in 1975. That operation took up the bulk of their time. After the dairy venture ended, the family moved on to more farming and raising Angus cattle. Their major crops are hay, soybeans and corn, Kiehl said, with some wheat acreage.
“I think we’re like a lot of people, we basically started from scratch,” Kiehl said of his farm beginnings.
Kiehl credits his father, Clifford Kiehl, and father-in-law, Lawrence Dyer, with motivating him to start farming. They provided him with guidance throughout the farm’s early years, he said. Dyer practiced conservation practices as well, planting buffer strips around Appanoose Creek, where most of the Kiehl property now lies. Dyer instilled in Kiehl the importance of taking care of the land through conservation, Kiehl said.
“He’s the one that probably instilled as much conservation practices and trying to do as much as you can for the ground,” Kiehl said.
Both coming from the plow-first school of thought, Kiehl said his mentors were hesitant when he mentioned switching to no-till.
“It would really irritate [Dyer],” Kiehl jokingly said. “He was of the old school.”
No-till is a method of growing crops from year to year without disturbing the soil through tillage. It has been shown to improve soil structure and water retention by allowing plant materials to serve as a protective barrier for the plants. Unlike cultivation, the harvested plant stalks remain in the fields year round, which Kiehl said is part of the reason farmers have an aversion to it since fields aren’t clean with freshly turned black soil.
The practice seemed to be a little less difficult for the farming couple when the Kiehls took it on, spending less time in a tractor turning the dirt. Most importantly for Don Kiehl, he said, it preserves the soil and prevents it from washing away. In the 20 years since they began no-tilling, the yields have been good.
“I know that last year, even though the year was bad, we had fairly respectable beans,” Kiehl said, adding they got 40 bushels per acre out of some soybean fields.
As a means of conserving the soil and not over-stressing the earth, the Kiehls plant alfalfa hay. Using alfalfa as a rotation crop allows valuable nutrients to be put back into the soil, Kiehl said. The Kiehls also have installed terraces in their fields to maintain the waterways and control the run-off of water, which can, if left unchecked, damage the soil and the crop, Kiehl said.
Not all the ground they started farming on was taken care of as it should have been, Kiehl said, but that is starting to change. Conservation increasingly is becoming more important to producers, Kiehl said.
“It’s really no different if you own the farm or if you’re leasing it,” he said. “You try to take care of it the same and hope that your landlords appreciate it, and most of them do.”