It’s a common saying in Ohio that the Buckeye State has it all – great soil, abundant water, plentiful natural resources and diverse landscapes. For 75 years, Ohio’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) have worked to conserve, protect and wisely use what Ohio is blessed to have.
Two streams flowing across Millstone Creek Farm are part of the Clear Creek watershed. “The farm borders Clear Creek, a source of drinking water for Hillsboro,” Sandy Shoemaker says. She, her husband, Tim, and Howard Grabill co-own the 188-acre Highland County farm.
“This land has been important to the Highland Soil and Water Conservation District because of the proximity to the city water source,” she says.
75 Years of Conservation
Found in all 88 Ohio counties, the first SWCDs trace their roots back 75 years. “The Highland SWCD was the first in the state, started during the Dust Bowl years,” says Jim Carr, a grain and cattle producer and Highland SWCD board member. “Back then, soil preservation was the main concern. Today, we tend to focus on water quality.”
A five-member elected board governs each local SWCD, helping to address an area’s greatest needs. “I’m proud to represent Ohio’s SWCDs and the diversity provided throughout the districts seeking to make the land and resources better for future generations,” says Harold Neuenschwander, president, Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and Holmes SWCD Supervisor. “Our SWCDs strive to ensure best management practices are put in place to make a positive difference. It’s our goal to ensure these positive efforts are continued throughout the next 75 years.”
Permanent, Productive Pasture
Like other operators, Millstone Creek Farm works with the local SWCD to craft a voluntary cooperative agreement, which includes a farm’s plan for soil and water nutrient management and erosion control. Local SWCD staff provides landowners technical assistance and guidance in crafting the plan.
Permanent pastures are central to the plan at Millstone Creek Farm, where 60 pasture acres are divided into 13 paddocks. This allows for intensive rotational grazing, a practice promoted by Ohio SWCDs, where animals are moved between fields or paddocks.
“We built almost 10,000 feet of permanent fence, and we will establish about 20 more acres of permanent pasture, adding 40 acres of hay ground into the rotation for winter stockpiling,” Sandy Shoemaker says.
Rotational grazing allows the farm’s herd of 55 beef cows, plus their calves, to be on grass nearly year round. “We let the cattle into a paddock when the grass is about 8 inches tall and take them out when it’s 3 or 4 inches,” Tim Shoemaker says. “Leaving the grass higher helps prevent runoff.” Movement between pastures distributes manure more evenly, also reducing runoff potential.
Ohio SWCDs encourage livestock farms to fence off creeks and streams. “The creek is fenced. There is a place where cattle can drink from it, when necessary, without going in,” Sandy Shoemaker says.
A SWCD also helps landowners identify programs that aid conservation efforts. Such programs helped install about 9,000 feet of water lines at Millstone Creek Farm, as well as access roads and places where stone is built up in the creek bed, to allow cattle to cross with minimal sediment stirring up.
Waterways and Wildlife
The SWCD helps landowners design permanent grass waterways and filter strips, grasslands that buffer creeks and streams from nutrient runoff. Millstone Creek Farm has 33 acres of permanent filter strips along the creek. Soil and water conservation also encourages Ohio’s wildlife populations. In 2017, Millstone Creek Farm seeded 20 acres with four types of warm- season prairie grasses.
“They will provide some grazing when the cool-season grasses are not growing much,” Tim Shoemaker says. A future seeding on those 20 acres will add 10 other plant species, including wildflowers producing seed for game birds. That pilot program is managed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources with support from Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever and Turkeys Forever.
This shows how SWCDs are delivering benefits unanticipated by their founders 75 years ago. “We’re the ones who are carrying the torch of conservation now,” Carr says.
Tim and Sandy’s son and daughter and Howard Grabill’s daughter will retain farm ownership in the future. “The plan is that they will carry on all the conservation that we’ve put into place,” Sandy Shoemaker says.