Bob Packard’s Elliott Highway farm is as old as Michigan. Of course it’s nothing like it was in 1837 when his family first tilled the soil.
Packard sees a combination of both improvements and degradations, but one thing is clear in his operation of the farm: He’ll do his best to upgrade the condition of the land.
“I’d like to leave it a little better than when I got it,” he said
That attitude, along with his actions, led the Lenawee Conservation District to choose Packard as the 2007 Conservation Farmer. Although Packard is in Florida for the winter, he’ll be honored in absentia at the group’s annual dinner meeting Thursday in Adrian.
Not all of the Packards stayed on the farm—at least not initially. Bob’s father left the farm for a job near Detroit, but he returned in 1944 and that’s where Bob grew up. He graduated from Morenci—a football standout—and joined in the farming operation in 1962.
The 925 acres he has under cultivation now includes about 240 acres of the original farm. After his father died, Bob got rid of the 20-some cows, but he kept a few pigs on the farm for a while. For the most part, it’s been a life of corn, soybeans and wheat, although wheat has been absent from the Packard farm for several years now.
The list of Packard’s projects through the Conservation District is extensive.
He’s put in erosion control dikes, he’s filled in gullies and he’s planted grass strips along creeks. He’s invested in tree-planting projects, built two ponds and practiced forestry management. He’s also tried to improve conditions for wildlife and made a stab at bringing pheasants back to his property.
“Just about any program they had, I got into,” Packard said. “I enjoy seeing them built and I know we’re improving the land”.
Packard also has his land grid checked for fertilizer, with a GPS-controlled truck applying varying output as it travels across fields.
Modern farming practices can improve the soil, he said, but at the same time they increase the opportunities for erosion.
“We’re building the ground up more, but we can damage it more,” Packard said. “Going to corn and beans, you have more chances for erosion.”
In the past, the ground was often covered with hay to hold the land in place and serve as a natural fertilizer. To accommodate large farming equipment, fence rows have all but disappeared.
“Probably the worst thing we did was to take out all the fence rows,” Packard said, noting the damage to wildlife and reduction in trees. “You just don’t have enough cover for wildlife anymore.”
Packard is convinced that his conservation efforts are making a difference. He can see it in the clarity of Black Creek that passes through his property on the way to the River Raisin.
Anyone participating in federally-backed conservation programs appreciates the financial incentives involved, but that’s not what draws the attention of farmers like Bob Packard.
“You can make money from them,” he said, “but that isn’t the idea.”
For him, it’s all about taking care of the land.