Ray Simpkins: Conservation Farmer of the Year

Written by David Green.


It’s no secret that there’s federal money behind conservation practices. When a farmer creates a grassy buffer alongside a stream, for example, a payment is given to help make up for the loss of crop production.

It’s the old carrot-and-stick approach to encourage good conservation practices.

ray_simpkins Some producers don’t really require the financial incentive. It’s just part of their philosophy of good land stewardship.

Place Raymond Simpkins in that category. His farming practices earned him an award as the county’s Conservation Farmer of the Year. Simpkins will be honored Jan. 19 at the annual Lenawee Conservation District banquet.

“I’ve always been an outdoorsman and conservation fits into what I’ve believed in,” he said.

Simpkins participates in several federal programs and he also takes some action voluntarily. In addition, he’s served as a persuasive force in convincing other farmers to try out some conservation measures.

Simpkins farms his own property and rents land from three other property owners. All of his bean fields use no-till cultivation and about three-fourths of his corn fields. He became a no-till convert in 1985. Fifty-foot buffer strips are in place along creeks and ditches on all of the land he farms.

He’s created wildlife food plots in three areas, covering about two acres of land. The grassy strips create windbreaks as well as cover for wildlife.

He’s helped other land owners with wetland reclamation projects to create ponds that not only serve wildlife, but the producer, as well.

“It helps out other ground, too,” Simpkins said, “because it drains water to the pond.”

His nutrient management program checks nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous levels in both the fall and spring to avoid over-application. Simpkins built a chemical storage building to contain all agricultural chemicals in one location.

Simpkins interseeds wheat with clover to give it some cover over the winter, and he’s also done tree planting.

There are always hard-to-farm areas that are great candidates for grass strips or wildlife areas, Simpkins said. With some odd-shaped pieces of ground, it’s hard to operate large equipment.

“A few acres here and there aren’t going to make that much difference,” he said. “You should be able to give up some land.”

He’s also taking advantage of the new Conservation Security Program (CSP) that’s placing a focus on the River Raisin watershed. Unlike other USDA programs designed to address existing environmental programs, the CSP is designed for operations that have already addressed problems, while keeping the land in production.

“The program rewards producers for their existing conservation projects that they installed over the years,” said Tom VanWagner of the Lenawee Conservation District. “This program fits Ray very well because of his long-term history of conservation.”

Simpkins believes the efforts to encourage good conservation practices will only increase in the future. He knows some farmers are reluctant to have “the government tell them what to do with their land,” but Simpkins doesn’t see it that way.

“It’s in our own best interest for relations with consumers,” he said.

When people notice the green grass of filter strips and waterways, and they see clean water flowing in streams, they know that farmers are concerned about the environment, too.

Simpkins’ grass filter strips are in a 10-year federal program, but when that runs out, he knows that he’ll leave them in place anyway, because it’s a good thing to do.

“A lot of what I’ve done has just been on my own,” he said.

That’s the way he intends to farm in the future, too, putting good conservation measures into practice.

   - Jan. 11, 2006


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