Some of the land farmed by Ernie Smyers near Windom is anything but flat.

Some of the land farmed by Ernie Smyers near Windom is anything but flat.

About four years ago, the farmer knew the rolling hills he worked would soon fall victim to erosion. Its steep inclines were the perfect formula for wind to take valuable, nutrient topsoil. And, if left alone, there wouldn’t be much more land to farm at all.

After receiving permission from landowners L & R Farms, he began to re-terrace and relocate waterways on 184 acres in Castle Township.

Terraces are step-like platforms that break up a sloped plane in order to develop more effective farming.

National Resources Conservation Service evaluators determined the old terraces and waterways had become worn out and needed to be upgraded to make them wider and deeper.

Today, the south side of the parcel drains into the Little Arkansas River, and the north side drains into the Smoky Hill River. Grass in the waterways prevent erosion by slowing down water and fertilizer so it can seep back into the soil. It also allows the water to be cleaned of pollutants before it enters the rivers.

“They’re kind of hard to farm, but when you’re paying for nitrogen, you don’t want it floating down the river,” he said.

All of these aspects makes farming more productive.

In addition to Smyers and L & R Farms, the local National Resources Conservation Service office, Mel Alexander, State Water Engineers, and Bloomberg Construction were involved in the project, which was completed in 2012.

“It is the right thing to do,” Smyres said. “It’s just good stewardship to take care of your land. If you don't take care of your land, pretty soon you don’t have anything to farm.”

Smyers said it is too early to see the benefits, but they will vary from year to year. Regardless, Smyers farms almost 2,000 acres of land and said he wouldn't farm it any other way.

“It wouldn’t be practical,” he said. “This land is all pretty rolling. There’s only so much topsoil, and when you lose that, you don’t have the fertility.”

The goal of the soil conservation award is to recognize those individuals who are working hard to keep their soil on the fields and to be good stewards of the land, said Jonie James, K-State Research and Extension agriculture agent for McPherson County.

Ernie’s father received the award in 1969, and then Ernie received a soil conservation award later on another piece of ground.

“It’s nice to receive the award and nice to be recognized,” he said.

Smyers said being recognized for what he is supposed to be doing is frosting on the cake.