David and Karen Badger, 2016 Kansas Bankers Award Winners.
By Rod Schaub, Frontier Extension District
This year’s Osage County winner of the Kansas Bankers Soil Conservation Award is David Badger. The award is given annually to a farmer that has made outstanding progress protecting soil in their fields. David and his wife, Karen, farm with David’s brother, Keith and his wife, Martha, in the Carbondale area. Each brother has their own farm ground and ground they farm together. They also partner in their fall calving cow herd and farm machinery purchases.
David started farming at an early age by harvesting his first owned crops in 1972. David learned about the importance of soil conservation while farming with his grandfather, Glen L. Badger. He remembers Glen telling him, “It’s important to leave the farm ground in better shape than when you started farming it.”
When David was asked what soil conservation meant to him, he replied, “It’s the continuation of the practices started by my grandfather, father and other landowners who have applied soil conserving practices to the land we now farm. It’s the practice of keeping the soil and the lifetime of investments we’ve put into it intact and productive. It also means finding new ways to do even better through technology or agronomic practices we don’t currently use.”
Soil conservation practices have changed over the years, according to David. In the beginning, practices like building and maintaining terraces and waterways were the main ways of protecting the soil. As time passed, farmers have reduced the use of the plow, and now for the most part have eliminated tillage. Now they have started leaving more and more residue on soil surface and this has led to less soil leaving the fields through wind or water. Now, farmers like the Badgers are using options like cover crops, having a grazing plan, using no-till or strip-till, utilizing newer technologies like grid sampling, using variable rate fertilizer and lime applications, and variable rate seeding.
“I have reaped many benefits of the miles and miles of terraces and waterways my dad (Glen E. Badger) and grandfather (Glen L. Badger) built in the 1950s, 60s and 70s,” David said.
Some of those first terraces have been rebuilt while others replaced, and others have been replaced with a tile outlet terrace system. The tile outlet terrace captures the water in a terrace structure and the water is piped from the terrace to an existing natural water way. Tile outlets allow farmers to farm more of the field as they don’t require a manmade grassed waterway.
David said, “We are farming many miles of terraces and some of those were laid out in the 1950s. Our equipment has to be flexible enough to farm them as they currently exist, therefore, we do a lot of contour farming to accommodate the terraces. It’s amazing, the size of equipment is larger than I would of thought possible just a few years ago, and it’s still able to deal with our older steeper terraces.”
David started using no-till about 25 years ago on a limited basis, and about 15 years ago it became a standard practice for planting soybeans. Corn was still a split between no-till and conventional till until about five years ago, when they began a modified strip till program that they felt kept them from having any yield penalty from no-till.
The cattle enterprise has run into many challenges due to the closeness in proximity of the Carbondale Lake and the Badgers’ farming headquarters. David has done many things to help protect the quality of water in the lake and to reduce sedimentation into the lake. He has fenced off areas close to the lake, established permanent feeding areas with buffers, and used cropland extensively in the fall and winter months for grazing to spread the cattle out. He has used what is now considered cover crops, rye and turnips, for many years to keep the cattle out of the winter feeding areas as much as possible and reduce the need to grow and feed hay.
“Keeping cover on the field, whether crop residue or cover crops, has greatly improved the condition of our terraces and the life of our waterways. Keeping the soil in place also keeps our investment in fertilizer and herbicides in the field instead of letting it move downstream,” explained David. “Routine soil testing shows we are increasing soil fertility and organic matter levels, both these helps increase yields. It has allowed us to greatly reduce the amount of time spent in the fields doing tillage and also reduced our investment in tillage equipment. Eventually, what we spend on conservation must improve productivity without sacrificing profitability and I am convinced it has.”
What’s next for the Badger Farm?
“We are going to start using the yield data and grid sampling fertilizer data we have been collecting for several years to move into variable rate seeding,” David said. “This is where the planter automatically changes the seeding rates in predetermined areas.”
He further explained, “Our scouting services are moving into areas involving drones and satellite images for growing crops, which keeps us involved in those new technology areas without having to invest directly in them ourselves. New technology and agronomic advancements occur so fast now that it’s hard to predict where we’ll be putting our emphasis in the near future.”
Cost share has made many of the practices used on the Badger Farm possible.
“The KSU Extension Service, Osage County Conservation District, Natural Resource Conservation Service, and Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies Program have been invaluable in helping us get access to new technology and put crop and livestock conservation practices in place through cost share programs, some of which may have been beyond our reaches without them,” said David. “The Extension Service also gives us tools to discover new practices through education and help determine the profitability of the practices we use. Ultimately profitability is what determines the success or failure of any conservation practice.”
David and Karen Badger will be presented the Kansas Bankers Soil Conservation Award during the Osage County Conservation District annual banquet, at 6 p.m. Jan. 30, 2017, at Osage City High School.