Governor Brownback presents awards to farmers & ranchers at Water + Energy Progress Awards Ceremony

Eleven Kansas farmers and ranchers recognized for innovations

in water conservation and energy efficiency in agriculture.

Topeka, KS—Governor Brownback congratulated the 2015 Water + Energy Progress Award Winners at the Capitol on March 11th. Producers from across the state were recognized as models of innovation for their water and energy saving practices, which included using cover crops, no-till, managed rotational grazing systems, solar pumping stations, subsurface drip irrigation, irrigation scheduling, wind turbines, local foods production, milk condensing systems, on-farm research, and collaboration.

A program of the Climate + Energy Project (CEP), Water + Energy Progress (WEP), starts a new conversation about the nexus of water and energy. "Water + Energy Progress continues to provide examples of how farmers and ranchers of Kansas can flourish in the clean energy economy. Their innovations are not only making positive contributions for water and energy, but for their bottom line as well,” says Dorothy Barnett, Executive Director of the Climate + Energy Project.

In 2012, CEP convened a steering committee made of up water, energy, agriculture, and natural resource leaders from across Kansas which collaboratively identified standards for innovations: saving water and saving energy that must be affordable, replicable, and scalable. The steering committee then nominated exemplary producers from within their networks for Water + Energy Progress Awards.

The steering committee chose eleven innovative producers who all agreed to be interviewed for case studies about their water and energy saving practices. Each case study is available at www.WaterAndEnergyProgress.org.

"When is the time to conserve water and energy?” USDA State Director Patricia Clark asked in her opening remarks, "Today. We face tremendous challenges with water issues in the state of Kansas. These producers practice stewardship of water, soil, and energy on a daily basis. They are the leaders of the pack of innovation.”

Governor Brownback congratulated each award winner as he presented certificates and signs declaring each producer a Model of Innovation. He said, "I was thinking about what a risk it is to be an innovator. It can be difficult and it can be expensive, particularly early on, but it will work.”

With water as a priority, the Governor’s administration is working with stakeholders to create a 50-year water vision. Addressing the award winners, Brownback stated that "We’ve got to be able to produce more using less water, less energy, less inputs. We’ve got to conserve water, and you guys are on the front line doing it.”

2015 Water + Energy Progress Award Winners include: John Bradley, Douglas County; Mark Eitel, Dighton; Michael Herrmann, Kinsley; Jane Koger, Chase County; Living Acres Network, Gove County; McCarty Dairy, Rexford; Karen and John Pendleton, Lawrence; Shannon Creek Cattle & Quarter Horses, Olsburg; Bill Sproul, Sedan; Lucinda Stuenkel, Palmer; and Darin & Nancy Williams, Waverly.

"This program identifies Kansans who are innovating to save water, energy, and money while having positive impacts on water quality, soil health, and the environment,” says Program Director, Rachel Myslivy "We hope that sharing the stories of successful innovation will encourage further innovation. Good things are happening in Kansas agriculture.”

A reception was held at the Celtic Fox following the event. Attendees had the opportunity to visit with the award winners about the practices. Sponsors of the reception included Kansas Center for Agricultural Research & Education, Kansas Electric Cooperatives, Kansas Natural Resources Council, Kansas Rural Center, Kansas Sierra Club, Kansas Water Office, and Midwest Energy.

Water + Energy Progress is funded, in part, by the Kansas Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education and the Kansas Grazing Lands Coalition.

Summaries of Award Winners

Full case studies of all of the award winners are available.  
 
Summaries of each producer are included below.  

Mark and Mary Eitel, Dighton, KS

Southwest Kansas has experienced severe drought and declining groundwater supplies yet Mark Eitel has maintained profitability with 35% less water. Converting acreage to highly efficient, low-pressure Subsurface Drip Irrigation systems has saved water, reduced chemical costs, and energy expenses on Eitel’s farm outside of Dighton. Since 1996, Eitel has reduced rates of fertilizer application from 160 lbs of nitrogen to just 110 lbs, while still making 250 bushels an acre. No-till farming practices have increased the health of the soil on his 1700 acres and improved water retention and holding capacity, reduced runoff and also saved fuel costs. In addition to these energy efficiencies, Eitel uses a 10 KW wind turbine to produce all the electricity for the house and shop.

Mark explains, "My family has lived in this area for over a hundred years now. I feel like it is my heritage and my responsibility to try to keep the family farm running as long as possible.” Eitel’s practices focus on efficient water use, soil health, and profitability.

Shannon Creek Cattle and Quarter Horses, Olsburg, KS

Shannon Creek Cattle and Quarter Horses is located on 3,000 acres of tallgrass prairie near Olsburg, KS and operated by Alan Hubbard and his wife Sharon, son Joseph, and daughter-in-law Shelby. The Hubbards graze 150 of their own Hereford cows, 45 brood mares, five stallions, 250 ewes and 75 nanny goats while custom grazing another 160 cows. Managing all of these grazing patterns requires good fencing and reliable water sources. They sought out alternative watering systems that were low-cost, requiring more labor to install but less expensive overall. As an added bonus, the watering systems they installed improve water quality and use little to no energy. The Hubbards are a prime example of good stewardship, strong family ties, and long-range visions.

As Alan explained, "decisions should be comfortable to your lifestyle and your family. Activities should be sustainable over many years so future generations can do the same thing."

Darin and Nancy Williams, Waverly, KS

The Williams' farm close to 2,000 acres near Waverly, KS. They raise non-GMO corn and soybeans, wheat, milo, triticale, rye, and barley, as well as 31 head of British white cows, and 25 Katahdin hair sheep. They switched from conventional farming to no-till with cover crops at the same time, accelerating the impacts. Adding livestock into the mix results in a diverse system with multiple, interconnected benefits. Reduced erosion, increased water infiltration and holding capacity, reduced fuel usage, improved water quality, more family time, and peace of mind are several – but not all – of the benefits from this impressive system.

Darin says: "I have peace of mind realizing that I'm doing a better job. I’m not where I want to be but know I'm making an impact. Things are turning around. To be successful at this, you have to be a good student, learn as much as possible, be humble and never give up. Always look to learn something!”

Lucinda Stuenkel, Palmer, KS

Lucinda's labor-saving innovations, including building a calving barn, relocating winter feeding sites, and installing a video surveillance system, have saved time and energy and positively impacted water quality. The grass-fed beef operation benefits from the integration of no-till with cover crops, which enables the family to graze approximately 60-65 cow/calf pairs year-round on the Sunny Day Farm near Palmer, KS. Keeping the soil covered is a big part of the management plan, and it pays off. In 2013, in the second year of drought, farmers on the Stuenkel farm no-till planted corn into two-foot high wheat stubble. While the corn on neighboring farms burned up, theirs yielded 137 bushels per acre. Prioritizing conservation, and efficiency, Lucinda Stuenkel saves water, improves water quality, saves energy, and leaves plenty of time to enjoy both the family and the farm.

Lucinda can sum up the whole system in one simple sentence: "If you take care of the soil and water, they will take care of you."

John and Amy Bradley, Lawrence, KS

The Bradley's ranch in Douglas County prioritizes water quality, time management, and animal health. A veterinarian by trade, John’s system revolves around one day off per week with one person’s labor. Beginning with a focus on water quality, Bradley installed feeding pads and watering sites that preserve the streams and ponds on the 300 acres of cool season grass in northeast Kansas. Stockpiling grass for winter grazing, utilizing solar chargers for fencing, and installing frost-proof watering tanks all reduce the amount of energy required to run the cattle operation. The systematic approach prioritizes water availability, water quality, and animal health and prepares a solid path for the future of the ranch.  

Bradley says: "I can lower my inputs, lower my energy costs, lower my capital expenditures for hay, lower my health costs and still maintain a healthy herd because we’re designing it for where we live and what resources we have."

McCarty Family Farms 

The McCarty family operates three dairies in Kansas: Rexford, Bird City, and Scott City, and one facility in Beaver City, Nebraska. The four dairies combined produce nearly 640,000 pounds of raw milk daily. The Rexford facility was built specifically with energy and water efficiency in mind, featuring an advanced evaporative condensing milk processing plant. That plant reclaims and reuses roughly 50,000-60,000 gallons of freshwater daily—that’s about 20 million gallons, or about 61 acre-feet of water saved each year. Not only does the water reclamation decrease groundwater depletion, it also reduces the number of trucks needed to ship their products to Texas. Condensing the milk before shipping reduces their freight tremendously.

Ken McCarty says, "We are keeping the water that is pulled from a Kansas well and we’re keeping it in the state of Kansas. By doing that, we reduce the trucking needs on the finished goods by about 75 %."

Jane Koger

Jane's innovative approach to grazing includes including intensive early grazing and patch burn grazing on her 4,000 acre cow/calf ranch near Matfield Green. With patch burn management, just one third of the pasture is burned yearly. The other two thirds are untouched, which provides habitat for grassland birds and other species, but it also captures more water and has positive impacts on water quality.

Jane says, "if patch burn grazing is good for wildlife and it’s good for butterflies, of course it’s going to be good for grazing livestock. If you manage for birds and butterflies and monitor those smaller animals, the quarter pounders will be there!" Patch burning keeps cattle in one place without fencing which saves time, money, and energy on maintenance and upkeep. Furthermore, Jane’s entire operation is off-the-grid, powered exclusively by solar panels and wind turbines. Her openness to community involvement provides opportunities for others to learn about land stewardship, water, and biodiversity.

Michael Herrmann, Kinsley, KS

Looking for a better way to control run-off and conserve soil moisture on 7000 acres near Kinsley, Michael Herrmann and his father, Quentin, developed a dryland, no-till approach. By converting to no-till, he not only achieved his goals of saving water and reducing runoff, but he also noticed other benefits, including saving time and energy. A model for dryland no—till, Michael’s operation also illustrates effective integration of renewable energy. He uses eight windmills to pump water on his farm, in addition to solar panels for water pumping and fencing. Michael Herrmann has integrated dryland farming and no-till in order to affordably achieve save water, reduce erosion, and save tremendous amounts of energy.

Herrmann says, Water is going to be the biggest issue we have in western Kansas. In order to keep farming, in this part of Kansas, the only feasible way to do it is through no-till, and to conserve all the water you can.

Living Acres Network, Gove County, KS 

The Living Acres Network (LAN) is a group of farmers in western Kansas working together to improve soil health and conserve water with no-till and cover crops. The group united to better understand soil health, no-till, and cover crops by sharing experiences and resources. Producers in the Living Acres Network have improved soil health, water retention and infiltration, and saved tremendous amounts of energy. Embracing the mission to build healthier soils for the future, a steering committee of five directs the group. They’re all here today: Darrell Kaiser, Daniel Schultz, Larry Manhart, John Niswonger, Darold Zimmerman, along with NRCS District Conservationist, Tanya Allemang. The group’s collaborative approach to on-farm research presents a promising path to the future.

Steering Committee member, Larry Manhart explains, "because it takes such a long time to improve your soil health, you can’t stop at one little hiccup. With us being able to share ideas, I think it’s a very good way for us to narrow that timeframe down. If we all do this together, we can just accelerate this so fast."

Bill and Peggy Sproul, Sedan, KS

The Sproul Ranch spans 7,500 acres near Sedan, in south-central Kansas. Spoul’s ranching techniques of patch burning and management intensive grazing greatly reduce erosion and the negative impacts from cattle to the soil surface, which means that water stays on the land and infiltrates into the soil. His emphasis on community-based conservation guides his decisions based on what is good for the ecosystem which improves the quality of the soil, water, and prairie habitat. Bill Sproul is an innovative example of responsible stewardship of soil, water, energy, and grassland communities.

Sproul says, "the community is all tied together and each thing depends on the other to make the community strong. When you view land as a community, you belong to the community. You don’t own the land, you belong to the community. The land is the wealth, the community is the wealth. Water quality, retention, infiltration, the more I have, the wealthier I am."

Karen and John Pendleton, Lawrence, KS

The Pendleton's are leaders in the local-foods movement in Kansas. Operating on 65 acres in northeast Kansas, just outside of Lawrence, the Pendleton’s raise vegetables and flowers using surface and subsurface drip irrigation in the field, in hoop houses, and greenhouses. Emphasizing the importance of direct marketing via farmer’s markets and community supported agriculture, agricultural education, and agri-tourism, the Pendleton’s educate local consumers on agricultural practices, beneficial insects, and nutrition. Using a common sense approach, the Pendleton’s practices save water, energy, and benefit the local community.

John Pendleton explains, "we live here. We think it’s important to have a nice balance of good, healthy environment where we live and work. The butterfly pavilion is educational, the flowers are beautiful, and the food tastes better. We want to provide good quality products to the customers that look better, taste better, and are more nutritious. I like that people say, ‘this is my farmer.’ Our customers are our customers, and we are their farmers."