Blending Farming and Conservation

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Published on: Jul. 16, 2012


Richard and Tina McConnell’s 80-acre farm near Morrisville combines fields of lush cool grasses and native warm-season grasses with a shaded stream flowing across the property. Their cow/calf herd, consisting of 21 cows, is content grazing across the fields.

In June 1993, they purchased the land, which had a mix of pastures, small woodland and a stream. “When I purchased the property, it was nothing but overgrown fence rows and sprouts, and the pastures were nothing but broomsedge,” Richard said.

Bob Howe, district conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), completed an inventory of McConnell’s new farm and developed a conservation plan for the property. That plan provided the road map the McConnells have followed for the past 19 years.

The McConnells knew the broomsedge was an indication of poor soil fertility. They conducted the first soil test in 1994 and began applying lime and fertilizer. “I knew the pH of the soil would be low, but one thing that really struck me was how low the percent of organic matter was,” said Richard. In 1994 the organic material was 1.9 percent and below for all the fields. In 2011 the organic material ranged from 5.4 percent to 7.3 percent for all the fields. The pH readings now range from 6.3 to 6.5, which is a significant increase.

In 1994, fencing was constructed for the rotational grazing and alternative water system. State cost-share funds from the Polk County Soil and Conservation District (SWCD) and Missouri Department of Conservation’s Landowner Assistance Program were used for this project. The initial grazing plan was designed with five fields. The McConnells have the farm split into 14 paddocks that range from 2 to 8 acres. They move the cattle daily so they are always grazing on new grass.

In 1995, the McConnells used the SWCD cost-share program to interseed legumes into

his pastures. They drilled a mix of four species of clover into 21 acres. Their goal was to reduce the amount of nitrogen required in the fertilizer because the legumes would add nitrogen to the soil. The legumes also became a food source for deer and turkey.

As that was completed, the McConnells were ready to address the summer slump of pasture from their cool-season grasses by converting two fields to native grasses. In 1997, they planted 9 acres to switch grass. That seeding never took off; so in 2000, they

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