2018 Kansas Bankers Award: Pearson family dedicated to improving land, clean water

The Pearson family: 2018 Kansas Bankers Award winners for Osage County.

By Rod Schaub
Frontier Extension District Agent

Pearson Farms has been selected as the winner of the 2018 Kansas Bankers Association’s Soil Conservation Award, which recognizes farmers and ranchers that have improved their land through conservation practices that conserve their soil.

This year’s winners are Fred and Pat Pearson and their family, of Osage City. The family includes son Clark and his wife, Bobbi, and Max, their son; son Jim and his wife, Dawn, and their children, Paige and Peyton; and son Jeff, who is not involved in the farming operation.

The Pearson family has farmed in the Osage City area for more than 145 years. Fred’s great-grandfather settled northwest of Osage City in 1874. His first job after immigrating from Sweden was working in the coal mines, and soon afterwards he started farming. Paige, a senior at Kansas State University, and brother Peyton, a college freshman, plan to be the sixth generation of Pearsons to farm in Osage County.

Fred was born and raised on a farm near Miller. He attended Kansas State University from 1959 to 1963, where he studied ag education. He met Pat during college. Pat grew up on a farm near Manhattan.

“My father wanted someone in the family to farm, and he was pleased to find out that Fred and I planned to marry,” Pat said. Fred and Pat were married in 1963.

From 1963 to 1968, Fred taught vocational agriculture at Burlingame, and Pat taught grade school at Osage City. Pat retired from teaching to take care of her grandchildren and help as needed around the farm.

The first ground Fred and Pat bought was in 1966. The land was very poor and needed a lot of conservation work and trees and brush controlled. In 1966, Fred and his father, Earl, started the Miller Elevator. The elevator has grown over time and they currently have three locations, Miller, Hartford and Neosho Rapids. The young couple purchased 240 acres and moved to their current home in 1969.

The Pearson Family farm consists of crop farming, mainly corn, soybeans and wheat, the elevator business, and cattle, mainly stockers, and also a cowherd. All this takes coordination of effort and the family divides the work to get the job done. Jim and a hired man plant crops, run the combine, bale the hay, care for the cattle and repair fences. Clark works the elevator, keeps up on crop variety selections, herbicide and insecticide use, and does most of the crop scouting. Bobbi and Dawn have off the farm jobs to help supplement the family income. They both grew up on good family farms, understand farm life, and are a great help around the farm. Fred started slowing down in 2014 and now helps where needed.

That first land purchased in 1966 was overgrown prior to the purchase. The Pearsons cleaned brush from the land and improved the pasture grasses by burning and using the correct stocking rate. After the brush was gone the grass stand improved, increasing water infiltration and reducing soil erosion.

On new crop land purchases they had terraces and waterways constructed, and in the mid 1980s, the Pearsons started using tile outlet terraces. The tile outlet terraces kept more of the soil on their land and the water that left was much cleaner. Fred and Pat’s dedication to improving crop land and pasture, reducing erosion, and the importance of clean water, was shared with Clark and Jim at an early age.

“One of the most rewarding things I’ve done,” said Fred, “is taking unproductive land and bringing it into production. That goes for both crop land and pasture land. Our native pastures are in much better condition today than they used to be.”

The Pearsons continue to strive to do the best they can for the land. The family has evolved to mostly no-till farming. This year, due to the wet harvest, some fields will need to be tilled to eliminate ruts left by the combine.

“We must take care of the land, so it can take care of us,” Clark said.

Cover crops are used on the farm, including cereal rye, cereal rye with turnips and radishes, for fall and spring grazing. These crops have been drilled or sometimes flown on standing crops by an airplane. Most of the cover crops are used as forage for the cattle.

“My favorite thing is watching a bunch of cows graze turnips,” Jim said. “Once the tops have been grazed off, the cows just mud up their faces trying to eat the turnip bulb out of the ground.”

To be a good cattleman you have to have grass. Last year, Jim sent cattle to grass May 1, but with the drought conditions and lack of water, those cattle were taken off the pasture in mid-July and fed in a lot. The August rains allowed the pastures to regrow and cattle were sent out to grass again in early September.

The family has also found that technology has provided many benefits, including huge improvements in planters. These improvements have made no-till an option for all farmers. To improve germination, down pressure can be applied to the packing wheels, ensuring good seed to soil contact and allowing seeds to be planted to the correct depth.

Seed genetics have also improved through the years. Using global positioning systems (GPS) with mapping software and auto steer allows producers to spend much more time in the field without becoming tired. Technology also allows for seed population changes within the field, and the ability to change those populations without stopping.

The Pearsons credit the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Conservation District for technical advice, the Farm Service Agency for financial assistance, and the Extension Service for educational programming they have used throughout the years.

When asked what’s next for Pearson Farms, Fred said he “would like to see continued growth and progress of the farm.” And, he is looking forward to having the grandchildren become a part of the farm.

Pat agreed, “The farm has been a great place to grow some boys and Paige.”

Pearson Farms and the Pearson family will be honored as 2018 Kansas Bankers Association’s Soil Conservation Award winners the during the Osage County Conservation District’s annual meeting, at 6 p.m. Jan. 28, 2019, at the Osage City school cafeteria.

Fred and Pat Pearson are surrounded by family at home and on the farm. Courtesy photo.

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