By Peter H. Milliken
The efforts of Mahoning Soil and Water Conservation District have been tested this summer with drought conditions plaguing the area.
But soil and water conservation officials say Ben Campbell’s Stone Creek Farm at 16200 Palmyra Road is a model of environmental stewardship.
When the long dry spell was interrupted by 31/2 inches of rainfall within two days in late July, erosion on the Campbell farm as minimal, and Campbell attributes that to the erosion-control measures he’s taken based on SWCD’s advice.
Campbell’s environmental stewardship is even reflected in his use, whenever possible, of a two-wheeled dirt bike, instead of a larger vehicle, to get around his farm, thereby reducing soil erosion, fuel consumption and air pollution.
Campbell is a cattle farmer, and his family has been farming on Palmyra Road in Mahoning County since 1900. Today, Campbell’s 300-acre Milton Township farm is home to more than 200 head of beef cattle.
Running through his farm is Charley Run Creek, which flows into Lake Milton, where a state park is located. Protection of water quality in that creek, whose watershed spans more than 2,000 acres, is one of Campbell’s highest priorities.
“We’re proud of what we’re doing, and we’re trying to just do the right thing and protect Mother Nature and our family interest at the same time,” Campbell said.
“The agricultural community really has always been in the forefront of best practices because they cannot foul their own land. They cannot foul their own water,” said Richard Scarsella, board chairman of the soil and water conservation district.
Scarsella called the Campbell farm “a pacesetter” in soil and water conservation practices.
Todd Miller, SWCD’s district technician, called the Campbell farm “a model farm” for such practices.
Besides the altruistic values, good environmental stewardship is in a farmer’s best self-interest, Miller said.
“Being a farmer, you want to be a steward of the land because whatever you put into it is what you get back,” Miller said.
“The longer he can graze [his cattle], the less hay he has to feed, the less it costs him to feed those cows,” Miller said of Campbell.
Campbell, who has a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Ohio State University, teaches agriculture at Southeast Local High School in Portage County.
CONSERVATION IN ACTION
On his farm, Campbell has adopted many soil and water conservation measures, some entirely funded on his own and others with federal cost-sharing assistance.
Among the steps he took based on recommendations of Mahoning SWCD are:
Cattle are fed on a heavy stone pad during the winter to reduce erosion caused by cattle hooves in freezing and thawing ground.
A 40- by 70-foot storage building has been built to house under roof the manure collected during the winter from his barns, so rainfall won’t carry it away and cause water pollution before it is spread thinly over the pasture as fertilizer in the spring.
An electrified fence has been installed along the creek to keep cattle from congregating to cool off in the creek, where their presence would pollute the creek and cause erosion.
Some 5,000 additional trees, including 3,500 swamp white oaks, and 500 each of ash, pin oak and Austrian pines, have been planted along the creek to reduce stream bank soil erosion and provide shade to reduce water temperatures for the benefit of aquatic life.
Nearly 3 miles of underground plastic pipe with 21 water taps have been installed to facilitate rotation of watering station use as cattle are moved from one section of pasture to another.
This rotation allows the grass on which the cattle graze to recover and grow anew and prevents excessive manure and urine accumulation in one place.
The rotation of livestock among pasture segments is especially important during periods of drought, such as what Campbell has experienced this year, when pasture recovery from grazing is slower due to slower grass growth, Miller said.
All the advice and information from Miller and other staff members of the Youngstown-based Mahoning SWCD office is provided free to farmers and other landowners.