Dan Rohr does not seem to care about winning awards, in his mind, he is a farmer who is just doing the right thing.
That, however, did not stop him from being named a Bankers Award Soil Conservation Winner this year. He and landowner Maxine Shirk were the only winners named this year.
Rohr, with Shirk's permission, started to put together soil erosion controls on a property at South West Road and SW 844h near Sedgwick. Rohr has rented the land, and farmed it for crops, since 1982.
“I started farming before that I started near Hays, until I came here. A woman brought me here,” Rohr said, adding with smile. “I hate to tell people that.”
Rohr bought his own quarter section farm, and started renting other farm ground to add to his workload. He was able to rent a field from the Shirk family.
Pretty much immediately after renting the property, he noticed it needed some help.
“The land had enough slope on it and had enough of an erosion problem that it needed something to control water erosion,” Rohr said. “... When I took it over, one of the conversations I had between (Clarence and Maxine Shirk) was if I farm this thing, I want to have waterways because it has an erosion problem.”
It was a conversation that took time, and required the removal of a one-half mile tree row and applying for federal funds to pay about two-thirds of the cost of the project.
But Rohr was committed.
“Terraces and waterways are the best way to hold the soil, in my opinion,” Rohr said. “No one has proven to me yet that there is a better way to hold the soil than terraces and waterways. There are people trying different ideas — chemical farming and cover crops. But those will have their drawbacks too.”
Grassland waterways, as they are called, were added first. Grassland waterways are broad, shallow and typically saucer-shaped channels designed to move surface water across farmland without causing soil erosion. Grass cover in the waterway slows the water flow and protects the channel surface from the eroding forces of runoff water.
“Once the grass was established, and that takes a couple of years and we started on this project about 10 years ago,” Rohr said. “... It has controlled the erosion a lot better.”
Next came terraces — berms made out of dirt to reduce both the amount and velocity of water moving across the soil surface, which greatly reduces soil erosion.
“We have lost more soil since 1993 than the previous 100 years because of all the extreme floods, high water and hard rains we have had. Eventually, we will go back to dry period again, that is just a cycle of mother nature. But the Shirk's ground is going to be there for the next generation because we have pretty well eliminated the erosion,” Rohr said.
The drawback, he said, is more time — meaning more work, higher fuel expense and more hours on the equipment — in fields using terraces and waterways.
But those are things he believes are worth putting up with.
“I am very passionate about soil conservation,” Rohr said. “It is like looking at a car with a bent fender on it. There is something that can be done to make it look better and you can be more proud of it. You take a field that has gullies and washes in it, you put waterways and terraces in there and it is like night and day.”