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Q&A with NACD’s Former Northern Plains Region Executive Board Member Bevin Law

Bevin Law (pictured right) of Kansas served as the Northern Plains Region NACD Executive Board member for two full terms from 2017-2021. NACD interviewed Bevin in January 2021 to hear his perspective about his time on the board and what he’s experienced and appreciated over the years of work with conservation. The Northern Plains Region is grateful for the time and energy that Bevin dedicated during his time on the NACD Executive Board. “We are glad for his commitment, and we wish him well in his future conservation district activities,” they wrote.

Tell us about your background.

My great grandparents homesteaded in Graham County, Kan., in 1877 in the town of Hill City. My granddad, dad and mom all grew up as farmers in Hill City. I have farmers on both sides of my family. My grandma on my dad’s side wound up with two 80-acre plots in Clay County, which is 180 miles east of Hill City. When my dad and mom got out of World War II, my grandma wanted them to come back and live on those plots, and that’s how we wound up here.

The two 80-acre plots weren’t homesteaded, they were bought in 1912. I didn’t know that previously, but I found out after doing some research into a Farm Bureau program for 100-year-old farms. We’ve always been members of the Farm Bureau, and I was always interested in the Century Farm Program. I didn’t think that we would qualify for the program until I actually looked into it and found out that my Granddad Dixon bought the place in 1912. So, we did qualify, and we just got that sign from Farm Bureau a couple of months ago recognizing our place as a century farm. We are proud of that.

My wife Trudy and I were married in 1976, and we bought a farm about a mile to the north. My dad passed when I was 13 and my mom remarried after he passed. After some time, my mom and her husband moved off the farm and into town, so then my wife and I moved back to the farm we’re on now. So I’ve lived on the farm where I was raised for most of my life. We have two kids: a son, Thad, who farms with us and a daughter, Lacey, who works for Disneyworld in Orlando, Fla. We’ve gotten a lot of interesting feedback from Lacey. She learned a good work ethic on the farm, and that’s served her well in Florida.

When did your connection to conservation start? 

I was born in 1953, and some of my earliest memories are from building terraces on the neighbor’s farm and on our place. My dad was diligent about getting all his farm ground in terraces and waterways to stop soil erosion. The next big step we took in that process was going to no-till, so we weren’t tearing up the topsoil and making it more prone to erosion. We work to leave the topsoil in place with some cover on it. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has been promoting that “soil was meant to be covered,” and that’s what the approach is with no-till and cover crops. We’re working to keep that cover on the ground, because it’s really important.

We started with a partial version of no-till on our farm. For quite a few years, we no-tilled wheat into soybean stubble in the fall, or no-tilled milo into soybean or wheat stubble ground. I always had it in the back of my mind that it would be hard to control the weeds in wheat without deep tillage to bury the weed seeds. But in 2000, we bought a tried and true no-till drill and have been using it to maintain cover on the ground. Since 2000, we’ve only done no-till.

It always caught my eye when we were plowing, discing and chiseling all the time that we always had to work on the terraces every year to keep them in shape. Since we’ve started to no-till, we don’t have to plow terraces; the ground stays in shape better.

How did your activity with conservation districts start?

The conservation district in Clay Center had a member who was ready to retire, and they came and asked me to run for his position. So I did. I didn’t have a lot of experience with conservation districts before then. I guess you could say I dove in headfirst. I started with the Clay County Conservation District board in 1982, and I’ve been there ever since. Sometime after that, a KACD board member named JD Cameron in Marshal County told me that he needed someone from my area to be the state finance committee chair. That was how I first got involved at the state level. I served in that position for many years. A man named Don Rezac replaced JD on the area 4 board, and when Don retired, he asked me to run. I was elected to that in 2008 and have enjoyed being on the area 4 board ever since.

People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.

Why is the work that you have done with conservation districts important to you? 

Our area has always been really active in promoting conservation. Clay County has had a good reputation for getting work implemented with cost-share allocations. I’ve been fortunate to be in a county that has been so active.

I’m not sure why some folks are more progressive than others. Early on, it was easy to see that it was more enjoyable to farm terraces instead of ditches. Not losing the topsoil is really the key. Topsoil is the biggest asset we have, and anything we can do to stop the loss of it is a good thing. That seems to be the feeling throughout Clay County.

What have you enjoyed about being on the NACD Executive Board?

I have really enjoyed getting acquainted with the NACD staff and the other board members. I’ve been going to meetings for years, and now I’ve gotten to know a lot of people on a personal level. I enjoy the national meetings to talk to lots of different people, but the summer meetings are a good chance to see different parts of the country and how people do things.

I think the most interesting summer meeting was in Spokane, Wash. My dad’s older brother was an agronomy professor at Washington State University at Pullman, and on one of the bus tours, we went through the Palouse region. My cousins had always encouraged me to go see Uncle Alvin, but I never had the chance. I always regretted not going, and then he passed away. So I really loved seeing the area near Pullman, because I had heard about it all my life from my family there.

The region meeting in South Dakota was also a good memory. It was the first region meeting that I attended. I enjoyed the area around Hot Springs and seeing Wind Cave and the Mammoth Site. But the best trip I ever took was when Tim Palmer and I rode together in 2019 to the NACD summer meeting in Santa Fe. That was probably the most enjoyable trip I ever took. We didn’t ever run out of things to talk about.

What are your favorite foods and activities that you’ve experienced at the national meetings?

I can eat steak, roast beef and pork chops all the time at home. So when we go somewhere, I like to order salmon. I really enjoyed the annual meeting in San Antonio, and the restaurants along the Riverwalk usually had salmon on the menu.

I also have liked seeing the landmarks from my travels. I enjoyed seeing the Alamo in San Antonio. I have also had the chance to go to Washington, D.C. many times. I didn’t expect to be able to go, and NACD has given me the chance to go there for several trips. I liked touring all the monuments, especially the Lincoln Memorial. We went to the Vietnam Memorial, and we found the name of a man that was from Clay County, Kan. We did the bus tour a couple of different times to the different memorials. The first time we went on a tour it was after dark. We went to the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam War memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Roosevelt Memorial, and we got to go through Arlington Cemetery and past Kennedy’s grave and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Washington, D.C. has been a really interesting place for me to go to. Although we can’t travel now with the virus, it’s been great to have attended these meetings and had these experiences.

What lessons have you learned as an NACD Executive Board Member?

I needed to learn how to listen better. I always thought I was a pretty good listener, but there is so much information that comes through the executive board. I feel like I learned how to listen more and take more notes, just out of necessity. I always feel like I remember things better when I write them down. This was a lesson I learned from my older brother. I keep notebooks with all the meeting notes that I have attended.

What advice do you have for a new executive board member?

My advice for the next executive board member is to focus on paying attention and keeping good notes. Asking questions is also so important. There’s a lot of information that comes through, so people shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions to make sure they understand what’s going on. Sometimes it’s easy to get a lot of information in a hurry, and it’s important to say something if you don’t totally pick it up.

What are your plans after your executive board term concludes?

I have talked with the NACD officers and let them know that I want to remain involved. Locally, Clay County in Kansas has always done really well with the Envirothon over the years, and I’ve enjoyed the connection to them. They have great instructors to teach the kids. They won the state Envirothon several times and have had a chance to go to the national competition. I always thought that participation was a good experience for the kids.

What quote comes to mind when you think about conservation work?

My kids have probably gotten tired of me throwing sayings at them, but I do have a couple of favorites. The first is from the Bible, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and I think that applies to any part of life you want to talk about. When our daughter Lacey was leaving to go to Florida for work, we talked many times about how she hoped she would end up in management. I told her to remember the lesson, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I really think that’s appropriate, too.

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