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Demonstration Farms

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Published on: Jul. 2, 1999

Last revision: Nov. 3, 2010

The Missouri Department of Conservation strives for the best conservation of forest, fish and wildlife resources in Missouri. That was why the Conservation Department was created in 1936, and it is still the driving force behind everything we do.

Working for conservation of the state's natural resources means working with private landowners, because 84 percent of the land in Missouri is privately owned. Maintaining a healthy, productive environment means individual landowners need to participate in the process--they are the key to the future. That is the whole reason for having demonstration farms.

Although they are privately owned farms, demonstration farms are open to the public during supervised tours arranged by the Conservation Department. These tours allow other landowners to meet on the property and look it over for ideas.

Showing is generally more effective than just telling. Looking at an example of a wildlife food plot, while someone explains it, seems to make the idea much easier to understand. Demonstration farms show people what is possible with the land, and that there are a lot of options for them.

Fears also may be reduced by visiting a demonstration farm. The thought of a timber sale may stir up images of destruction and pillage to some landowners, but standing in a beautiful forest on a demonstration farm while the host explains the process of a timber sale that took place on that very spot just a couple of years ago may help calm some fears.

Getting landowners to recognize the potential for similar practices on their own land--whether it's fencing cattle out of the woods, protecting an eroding streambank with trees or developing a wildlife watering hole--is the purpose for inviting them to a demonstration farm.

"I went on one of those demonstration tours and came back with all kinds of ideas," says Roger Brode of Cedar County, and that got him interested in becoming a demonstration farmer. "Now maybe they can come here to mine and say, 'yeah, I could do that.'"

Demonstration farms are privately owned lands where conservation practices already are in place and working to improve the productivity of the farm. "I bet all the work we've done has made this place worth twice as much as it was when we got it, because the timber is growing so much better," says Barry County demonstration farmer Ralph McAllister.

We choose farms for demonstrations because they show a variety of activities that promote overall good stewardship of the land. A good land steward will care for all aspects of the land, not just a single resource, such as timber or soil.

The owners of demonstration farms are usually busy with a variety of conservation practices. Demonstration farms in different counties show problems and possible solutions, and no two counties are exactly alike.

What kind of person would allow groups of strangers to visit their land? The kind who has a genuine concern for the land and its natural resources--a demonstration farmer.

"I was born on a dilapidated hillside," says Brode, "and said if I ever got something, I'd leave it better than I found it."

Some demonstration farmers have owned and worked the land for years, while others have just purchased the land after retirement. What they all have in common is their willingness to educate other landowners by opening their land to visitors and sharing their story of working with the land.

Dick Myers, a college professor before retiring, says becoming a demonstration farmer was a natural thing to do. "It goes back to our interest in education," he says.

Spreading the word from one landowner to another is where demonstration farms are so useful. Unfortunately, only 38 percent of forest landowners realize there is free forest management assistance available to them. Many just don't know what management options are available.

"We wanted to demonstrate what is possible in this area with grassland," says Myers. Teamwork between the Conservation Department and other agencies, such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service and local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, helps landowners know where they can go with questions.

Each agency also has a variety of programs to help landowners with the cost of implementing a conservation practice. "One of the most heartening things is the support we've gotten from the Conservation Department," says Myers.

Tours of a demonstration farm usually have three parts. First, the host landowner shares why and how they decided to get assistance in managing their land, and they explain how different conservation practices have worked to either solve a problem or make the farm more productive. Second, the group travels to see each practice on the farm, while the host or agency employee explains why it was needed and how it was accomplished. Third, a free lunch is part of the demonstration tour and gives everyone a chance to discuss what they have seen and heard during the day.

"I heard several different ideas that I'd like to take advantage of, and I just wanted to see what kind of program they had," says demonstration tour attendee Eric Roller, after spending the day looking over a Barry County demonstration farm.

Owners of demonstration farms are doing their part to encourage landowners to take an active role in the management of Missouri's forests. More private land will have to be involved if our forests, fish and wildlife are to have a bright and healthy future. Thanks to demonstration farms, the prospects are favorable.

For more information about demonstration tours in your area or about available assistance, contact your local Conservation Department office.

Demonstration farms showcase agricultural techniques that are good for wildlife.

Seeing is believing

by Joan McKee

The temperature was over 90 degrees with high humidity when folks pulled into the driveway of Roger and Carol Brode's 150-acre farm between Stockton and El Dorado Springs around 10 a.m. The heat of the June day made standing in the fields a little uncomfortable, but it didn't stop landowners from coming to Demonstration Day to find out how to make their farms more profitable.

The few participants who had never been to a Demonstration Farm before had lots of general questions to ask about how they could attract more wildlife to their property, stop erosion and earn money from their timber. But the majority of the participants already were using many of the state and federal programs that were showcased. These landowners came for details--lots of them--about what worked and what didn't on the Brode farm.

A popular stop, perhaps because it was in the shade, was a 6-acre section of woods that Roger had enrolled in the Stewardship Incentive Program. Conservation Department Resource Forester George Clark answered questions about cost-share programs and showed how Roger had fenced off the woods to keep cattle out and let forbs grow to feed wildlife. Oak seedlings now have a chance to regenerate the forest. Roger used specifications provided by the Conservation Department to make six brush piles to provide additional habitat. The program seems to be working. "I now have a brood of wild turkeys in the area," Roger said.

Other wildlife species are attracted to the nine food plots Roger planted. Wildlife Management Biologist Carl Conway discussed the Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program that provides Roger with funds and advice on how to make his land more attractive to wildlife. He also pointed out other tips, such as leaving woody draws so wildlife will have cover.

The Brode farm also is enrolled in the Stream Corridor and Wetland Protection and Improvement Program. Fisheries Management Biologist Stan Sechler discussed types of plants to put along the stream corridor to stop erosion. "Trees absorb nutrients from the fields and keep them out of the water," Stan said. Also, during high water, sediments will drop off in the corridor instead of in the field. Trees in the corridor also shade the stream, and the leaves that fall in the water help maintain the aquatic food chain so fish can thrive.

After a barbecue luncheon on the Brode's lawn, the group headed for the fields where Roger demonstrated his intensive grazing and alternative watering systems. Howard Coambes of the Natural Resources Conservation Service answered questions and promoted the different cost-share programs that allow farmers to keep cattle out of streams. Many approved of the use of moveable water tanks, which cause less erosion because cattle don't make a path to the same watering area and that help spread manure more evenly around the field, resulting in lower fertilizer bills.

This portion of the program was the big draw for many of the participants, including Bob Allen, who has a cow and calf operation on 100 acres in Cedar County and is looking for ways to make his own business more profitable. Bob, who knows a lot about rotational grazing systems and other conservation farming methods, was named 1994 Farmer of the Year by the Soil and Water Conservation District.

"When you think you know it all, that's when you need to sit up and learn," said Bob, who goes to demonstration farms to get new ideas. "It's good to see different applications for different terrains. Some of what I see will apply to me. Then I ask myself, "what can I do to make it better." s

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