Jefferson County conservation winners honored for 2010

Technology opened world markets to Gigstads

 Craig and Tammy GigstadCraig and Tammy Gigstad, Valley Falls,  use variable rate fertilizer application process on part of the land cultivated by the corporation.

Story and photo by Monty Davis

When Craig Gigstad’s family homesteaded in Kansas 150 years ago, it’s safe to assume they couldn’t imagine the advanced farming techniques he uses in the 21st century.

Gigstad’s Norwegian ancestors were lured away from Minnesota to the Lancaster area in the 1860s by the promise of free land. Today Gigstad Farms employs state-of-the-art technology to conserve soil and keep down costs.

Gigstad and his wife, Tammy, Valley Falls, have been recognized for their effort by the Kansas Bankers Association in cooperation with Kansas State Research and Extension and the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. The couple has been awarded the Kansas Bankers’ Award for soil conservation.

The couple recently described the variable rate fertilizer application process used on most of the land cultivated by the corporation.

Land used in this process is set up on a grid system with each piece in the grid measuring 2 ½ acres. From these grids, soil samples are taken to determine the nutrients in the soil.

With the use of a GPS system, custom applications rates are determined for each section of the grid to create uniformity across the entire field. A computer determines which parts of the field need application and which are normal. No section receives too much or too little of needed nutrients.

Since 2001, when they first started the variable rate process, Gigstad said his soybean and corn yields increased. Another advantage is the savings. He said it allows farmers to maximize their production dollars by applying fertilizer only in grids that need it. The benefits more than make up the $10 an acre cost to have the soil sampling done.

“I’m a firm believer yields have to go up because there’s no more acres to be put into production and so maximizing yields on each and every acre we farm has kind of been our goal,” Craig said.

The Gigstads are also in business with their son, Derek, and Craig’s brother, Kevin. They operate farms in Jefferson and Atchison counties.

Because soybean and corn yields have increased so dramatically, Gigstad said they have been able to give up raising hogs and concentrate solely on row crops.

“That has been our bread and butter for several years but we’ve kept hogs around because that’s what we’ve done for a long time,” he said.

For the past two years, Gigstad has been president of the Kansas Soybean Association and had the opportunity to travel to Indonesia and Thailand to promote Kansas crops.

“It’s very much a global economy and global trade,” Gigstad said. “What we used to think of as people a long ways away are now our neighbors.”

It’s these growing economies and population centers that have created new export opportunities for farmers like Gigstad. For example, China purchased 26 percent of the soybeans produced in the United States in 2009.

“When I’m driving down the road and see one out of four rows of soybeans and thinking that it’s going to be exported to China—that’s an amazing figure,” Gigstad said.

Gigstad credits policies put in place by the United States government that have opened up trade opportunities overseas. In addition, the diets and lifestyles of people living in these countries has created more demand.

Although not common in the hills of Jefferson County, Gigstad said his practices fit well into the family’s philosophy of farming.

“To us, it’s part of the process of making the farm better than how we got it initially and for the next generation to be able to survive,” Craig said.

Craig and Tammy have three grown children: son, Derek, his wife, Laura, and 8-month-old grandson, Ryker; daughter Danae, a chemical engineer for Cargill in Memphis; and daughter Devin, a nursing student at Pittsburg State University. Tammy is a long-time band and chorus teacher in Valley Falls and Jefferson County North school systems.

Breys find break from wind

Mike and Marcy BreyAn overhead shot of the Brey’s home taken about five years ago shows the semicircular pattern of the windbreak.

Story and photo by Dennis Sharkey

South of Oskaloosa when the north winds howl outside Mike and Marcy Brey’s house they hardly notice.

The Breys are the 2011 Kansas Banker’s Association Award winners for the windbreak that surrounds their home. They will be honored Jan. 19 at a banquet along with other award winners.

Mike and Marcy Brey

Mike and Marcy Brey

Mike said originally his family was looking for a way to control dust and increase the aesthetics of their property.

After clearing out old structures and overgrown trees there wasn’t much vegetation left.

“It was pretty bare,” he said. “We’re up on a big hill anyway, it all seemed to make sense so it all came together.”

Many hunting trips to western Kansas is where Mike found the encouragement to pursue the project. He knew the windbreak would add winter protection for his home but it also added protection for wildlife. Since starting the project the Breys say they have an increased presence of birds as well.

In the spring of 1997 Mike and Marcy began researching windbreaks and found a starting point with some guidelines provided by the state. After materials were gathered the family began to formulate a plan.

The windbreak consists of five rows around the three sides of the home in a half-circular pattern.

The inside row is 375 feet in length and is a mix of lilac, golden current and sumac shrubs.

The next row is 425 feet long and has 18 elm and as many thornless locust trees combined with 160 feet of Colorado Austrees.

The next two rows are about 700 feet in length. Each row has 75 red cedars.

The outside perimeter is an ongoing process but has 500 feet of pecan trees, a request of Marcy’s father. There are still 250 feet of the perimeter to plant. Any lost vegetation throughout the years has been replaced with burr oak trees.

Mike said the Colorado Austrees were some of the first trees planted and some are nearing the end of their life span and may need replacing soon.

Mike and Marcy did not do all the work by themselves. Family members helped along with friends and local contractor Dennis Domann was hired to help dig out larger trees and replant them.

A key to doing the project was getting the trees at a reduced cost from the state.

“Without that we wouldn’t have done it,” Mike said.

Nevertheless the Breys say they spent thousands of dollars on the project including mulching of every tree the first couple of years and irrigation.

Mike and Marcy say they don’t know who nominated them for the award but they appreciate the nod.

“We don’t really try to bring attention to ourselves but it’s nice to be recognized for the work we did,” he said.

Expansion actually made work easier for dairy farm

Brothers Jesse Houk, left, and Joel HoukBrothers Jesse Houk, left, and Joel Houk, right, operate CJA Dairy in rural Oskaloosa. The dairy supplies milk to Roberts Dairy and Belfonte Ice Cream in Kansas City.

Story and photo by Dennis Sharkey

When brothers Jesse and Joel Houk began expanding their dairy farm five years ago they didn’t realize government regulations would actually make their lives easier.

Jesse along with his wife, Shelby, Joel and Irene Houk are being recognized next week by the Kansas Banker’s Association for the water quality project that helped expand CJA Dairy in rural Oskaloosa. Jesse and Joel both operate the farm that their grandfather Clifford, father Allen and uncle John purchased in 1972.

Jesse said in 2005 the farm hired an engineering firm to help them design the new facility that would be built by King’s Construction.

The new facility helps maintain and clean up waste from the cows. Jesse said the system is similar to a toilet and allows water to be recycled.

The biggest change and benefit is waste storage and run off containment.

Before the project animal waste would have to be handled on a daily basis. Now solid waste can be separated from the liquid waste and stored for up to four months.

Having the ability to store the waste also allows the brothers to apply manure during ideal conditions rather than when they have to. That has enabled the brothers to go easier on equipment and possibly more free time.

“There’s more stuff to do of course,” Jesse said with a laugh.

The cow manure storage also allows for more natural fertilizers to be used. Five years into the project the farm has all but eliminated the need for commercial fertilizer. Jesse said it will save his farm about $45,000 this year in costs.

During his grandfather’s and father’s time working the farm manure was always viewed as a bad thing. Jesse said the farm is getting to the point where they need more land to spread on or sell it.

“You wanted to have the least amount as possible,” Jesse said. “It makes you appreciate the stuff and not think it’s a nuisance.”

The farm also uses computers to measure the nutrient value in the manure. Having solid numbers lets the farm know how much manure needs to be applied.

When the project began the brothers said they rolled their eyes at all of the regulations that were required to expand the farm. Now that the project is up and running the two men have an appreciation for some of the regulations.

“A lot of the regulations that are out there that they forced us to meet, you kind of beat your head against the wall,” Jesse said. “After you get it all in place and you see how everything works, you can see why they wanted it done that way.

“A lot of it makes sense,” he added. “There is still some stuff that’s overboard.”

Jesse said he doesn’t know who nominated him for the award but appreciates that someone recognized the farm’s efforts.

“It makes you feel like somebody out there appreciates what you’re trying to do,” Jesse said.

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