Brian Crowther of McPherson is being recognized for farming practices he began over a decade ago.
He received the No-till Conservation Award this year, which commends a care for his land that has improved over time.
"I wanted to leave my soil better than I found it," he said.
Crowther began no-till farming 12 years ago. No-till farming allows a producer to manage a crop and control weeds without turning the soil.
About nine years later, around the time his son Kyle returned to the farm, cover crops were integrated into the rotation. These are crops grown between two cash crops that build soil health, prevent erosion and increase water infiltration.
Today, about one-quarter of the Crowthers' no-till acres boast of cover crops.
They plant from three to eight cover crop species per year, and aim to have four classes represented in the mix — grass, legumes, brassicas and broadleafs. They purchase the seeds, do their own blending and inoculating, and then evaluate whether the mix achieved the desired results. These cover crops prime the land before soybeans or milo are planted.
Some of the cover crops also are grazed by cattle, which helps incorporate the cover crops into a more usable soil by recycling nutrients.
"We're used to farming degraded soil, and we put more fertilizer on it," Brian said, adding he now saves more money on fertilizer, chemicals and water than he did before. "You got to feel good about that."
These practices make for a healthier soil — a progression that happens beneath the surface.
"Farmers look at what happens above the ground, and there's so much more that happens that we don't understand," Brian said, adding this includes a multitude of micro-organisms that live in the earth. "It's like a whole other world."
The father and son enjoy attending educational events about agriculture and learning how these practices work. The Crowthers said they will never quit trying to improve their farming knowledge.
"It's great to be able to do that," Brian said. "When you go to events and educational programs, you meet so many other people who have been in the same situation, and you learn from them. You've got to keep looking around and see what's next. This is an ever-evolving world, and I don't think I could ever know everything. I think I learn something every day."
Brian received the award because no-till is an example of a farming practice that is becoming more popular, Jonie James, McPherson County agriculture K-State Research and Extension agent, said.
It demonstrates recent research that shows cover crops can benefit the soil and also can be used as a grazing resource when managed well, she said.
"I'm proud to get it," Brian said, who also received a water quality award in 2007. "I think there's a lot of no-tillers in the area that are just as deserving."