Osage County Conservation District
Keith Badger and his wife of 34 years, Martha, farm in Carbondale, Kansas, with Keith’s brother David and his wife Karen. Between them, they raise 2,400 acres of a corn-soybean rotation and a cow/calf operation of 110 adults.
Currently, Badger serves as chairman of the Osage County Conservation District (OCCD). Taking on this position was a bit intimidating, Badger admits, as he was unfamiliar with all of the partners that work with the district to get conservation on the ground. OCCD became the sponsoring organization of the Pomona Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAPS) project, of which he became the committee chairman. The Pomona WRAPS project was the first of its kind for a conservation district in Kansas – a planning and management framework that engages stakeholders within a particular watershed in a process to:
- Identify watershed restoration and protection needs and opportunities;
- Establish management goals for the watershed community;
- Create a cost-effective action plan to achieve goals; and
- Implement the action plan
Guided by the same principle as conservation districts, the WRAPS program uses a more local approach, using citizens and stakeholders to guide the project to address the issues relevant to their watershed.
While Badger chairs this project in his county, he is also investing some of his own operation in the project – planting some of his cover crops specifically to assist the Pomona WRAPS project. He’s currently working a demo plot for the project using several different species and different applications.
Badger has been experimenting with cover crops for years, but in the past five years he’s committed heavily to planting cover crops. He says his “go-to” cover is cereal rye, which he also puts in for grazing his cow/calf operation.
In his operation, Badger has been mostly no-till for the past 20 years. He says there are two main reasons he stopped tilling: 1) economics – he was tired of trying to make his tillage equipment pay off, as the return on investment just wasn’t there; and 2) erosion control – he was tired of the soil loss he was experiencing. Badger says he saw the erosion control benefits of no-tilling immediately.
To keep up with the latest on no-tilling, Badger has been attending the No-Till on the Plains Conference over the past few years. He’s encouraged by what he sees as a cultural change with higher attendance among young farmers and their increased levels of engagement at these events.
When transitioning to some of the soil health techniques and practices on an operation, Badger suggests that you start small with whatever you try and grow with it – no-tilling, cover crops, everything. He warns not to over-commit, but to take your time. “As your nutrient cycle changes, the whole game changes,” Badger said. “Once you make a change to your operation, it’s easier to grow with it pretty quickly, but it’s the abrupt changes and not the steady transition that is the problem.”
The challenge Badger recognizes in his part of the country is the need for a cultural change. Many of his peers feel they can’t make the switch to a no-till operation. Because the soils in Kansas are lighter, they’re more prone to erosion, and Badger says it’s absolutely crucial for conservation that Kansas farmers learn about the significance of soil health practices and make that switch themselves.
For Keith and his brother David, education and the promotion of soil health were the first steps in helping them make the change. “It’s the successful people you learn from,” says Keith. And for the two brothers, that person was their dad. “The next step is to be a good example to help others learn.”
Posted May 2018.