Conservationist award goes to Hokah farmers

By Craig Moorhead

Jerry and Cindy Welke of Hokah Township have been named the 2015 Outstanding Conservationists of the Year in the Root River Soil and Water Conservation District.

Established in 1905, the 470-acre Welke family farm includes Seaton silt loams, with slopes averaging from 12 to 20 percent. Those soils are highly susceptible to erosion, as are many throughout Houston County.

But Root River Soil and Water Conservation District (RRSWCD) staff note the careful application of sound conservation practices have protected the farmland Jerry and Cindy own.

The Welkes maintain 35-foot contour strips on all highly erodible acres. Productive hillside pastures, a series of ponds (eight to be exact) to catch runoff and tracts of hardwood forest are also part of the mix. Minimum tillage is used on cropland, which also receives short row crop rotations. Hay land is rotated, and planted with seed mixes, which include grasses such as brome and timothy to reduce erosion.

Pastures totaling 225 acres are rotated to maintain stubble height and keep erosion at bay. Those are also fertilized, and undesirable weeds are clipped or chemically controlled. The farm supports a 70-head beef cow/calf operation.

The couple is also active in the community. Jerry is president of the Houston County Cattleman's Association, and recently retired from the Hokah Volunteer Fire Department after 40 years of service. Cindy is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary, an organization which has profited from her help in various capacities for many years. She also served on the Hokah Fire Woman Committee for 20 years. Both are active members of their church as well, and have served on numerous community boards and committees over the years.

Asked about the award, Jerry said, “It's an honor. Everything we've got is HEL (highly erodible land). I learned how to protect it from my folks to start with. If you don't, it will be gone. It can take a million years to make it (good soils) and with a heavy rain, in two days it can be gone.”

He continued, “We don't have a lot of topsoil,” and joked, “And since I won't get to be a million years old, it's important to hang onto what's there.”

“It's an honor to be a farmer,” Cindy said.