Crop tour highlights farming practices
- Mardi Ford
The first year, it was just Don Sands and a handful of farmers armed with buckets of chicken. They jumped into pickups and headed out to see how a new herbicide was fighting wild oat in the field.
Though they did not realize it that day, the small group of men had given birth to the Union County Crops and Conservation Tour.
This year, there were three school buses packed with people from all walks of life including farmers on the 31st annual crop tour.
The buses were joined by a half-dozen other rigs filled with even more crop tourists. A trailer loaded with doughnuts, ice-cold pop and water greeted the group at every stop complete with porta-potties stationed discreetly nearby.
In 31 years, the tour has changed as much as the farming methods and practices it highlights.
The first stop of the day was a brief tour with Pete Nilsson and Becky Hamann, the 2006 Conservation Farmers of the Year. Nilsson talked about the changes he'd witnessed since joining the Hamann family farm in the mid-70s.
"At that time the river here was a major slough," Nilsson said. During the hottest part of the summer, Nilsson said the water became more of a nuisance as fish rotted in the mud.
"It was a stinking mess," Nilsson says.
They began working to slope the eroding vertical banks and planted trees and vegetation along the water on their property.
Tourists also took a look at the new energy-efficient, well-insulated shop built with southern exposure windows. The design incorporates solar heat to keep the shop, Nilsson says, comfortably warm even in winter.
"Now we actually spend more time working on equipment than thinking about it," he says, drawing a laugh from the crowd.
Finally, Nilsson also talked about changes made to the mint harvesting and oil distillation processes on the farm that were implemented to save both energy and money.
After leaving the 2006 Conservation Farm, throughout the rest of the morning the caravan meandered through the heart of the valley looking into a wide variety of subjects from what's new in market development for oil seed crops to how the county's smoke management program works.
The grand finale came when the tour joined the hundreds of other people who showed up to feast on barbecued rib steaks.
Thomasine "Tommy" Nichols, Cove, came on her first crop tour in 1994. She's made it to every one since then, except last year.
"As soon as I found out there was such I thing, I started coming," Nichols says. Although she has never farmed, her father used a horse and plow in Wisconsin where she grew up.
"I like to be aware of what's going on. It's always interesting," Nichols says. "Lots of new things to see."
Though the crop tour may be an indicator of the changing industry itself, one thing remains the same: At its heart the crop tour is still about sharing knowledge and information with anyone interested in agriculture.