It has nagged me for what seems like most of the 16 years that I have lived in Lincoln, Neb. I regularly make the trip to a reservoir near Hickman to either exercise my dog or unsuccessfully cast a line, but every trip that eroding gully catches my attention. It has always bothered me as to why a farmer would leave such an eyesore along a well-traveled road, but the trip this week really caught my attention. The gully is about four to six feet deep and extends several hundred feet into the field perpendicular to the road. On this particular day, the farmer had just finished combining, and it was obvious that every time he came to the ravine, he turned on end rows parallel to the gully. If the shame of such a poor farming practice has not been enough to cause him to fix the gully, then I would think the additional time and fuel used for the extra turns and the inconvenience of farming around the gully would motivate a change.
To give the fellow the benefit of doubt, I rationalized in my mind that perhaps an absentee landlord owns the land and has no interest in spending money on conservation practices because he or she is banking on future development rights as Hickman inches its way towards the property. I almost wrote it off with that, but I could not quite let it go, because the mindset of an owner or operator allowing this kind of degradation continued to be perplexing. So, I did a little research on the reasons why some farmers and ranchers reject adoption of conservation practices. I found a paper titled “Understanding and Promoting Adoption of Conservation Practices by Rural Landholders.”
The authors cited the following reasons why farmers and ranchers may or may not adopt conservation practices:
*The existence and strength of landholders’ social networks can influence the adoption of conservation practices.
*The physical proximity of other adopters can impact the adoption of conservation practices.
*The physical distance of the property from sources of information about the conservation practices can impact the adoption of conservation practices.
*A history of respectful relationships between the landholders and advocates for the conservation practices can impact the adoption of conservation practices.
*Ethnic and cultural divisions within a population can act as a serious barrier for adoption of conservation practices.
*Extension, promotion and marketing programs by government workers and/or the private sector can be positively related to the adoption of conservation practices.
*Profit expectations are an important influence on investment plans for adopting conservation practices.
*Access to off-property income influences adoption of conservation practices.
*Property size may influence the adoption of conservation practices.
*Age would appear to be of particular relevance to adoption of conservation practices.
*There may be some connection between education and the adoption of conservation practices.
*The reason for holding land can influence adoption of conservation practices.
These reasons certainly shed some light on why farmers and ranchers may or may not adopt conservation practices, but it still did not conclusively answer my question as to why this particular operator would allow this gully to exist for so many years in such a visible location, so I called our Lincoln District Conservationist Dennis Schroeder.
Dennis knew right away the gully that I was describing. He shared there are several reasons that some farmers rationalize not repairing a gully. Shaping, filling and seeding the area to a grassed waterway could take more land out of production than is currently lost by the gully. Then there is the challenge of maintaining grassed waterways with the drift effects of today’s herbicides. Where terraces or small dams might be an option, some farmers do not want to create obstacles to the large farm machinery (even though the gully is such an obstacle). Finally, and probably the real clincher for this situation, is that the development value of land around Hickman is a deterrent to investing in any long-term soil conservation investments. Dennis said that land adjacent to Hickman is currently selling at about $20,000 per acre. Even with all that said, I still wonder why the landowner would pass on the CRP option for grassed waterways, where he can receive cost sharing for shaping the waterway and up to 15 years of rental rate payments for maintaining it in grass. In case anyone is wondering, this field is not in violation of conservation compliance provisions because there is no off-site damage, so it really comes down to the landowner’s choice as to whether he or she wants to fix the gully.
So, there you have it. I guess I have either got to look the other way when I pass by that field or take the back route to the reservoir, because the only way that gully will likely get fixed is when it is replaced with a subdivision—which may not be too many years in the future.