Five families honored for conservation practices

The Ohio Department of Agriculture recognized five families representing each region of the state as winners of the 2016 Conservation Farm Family Awards at the Farm Science Review in London. This was the 33rd year of the awards program, which Ohio Farm Bureau sponsors. All five of the families are Farm Bureau members.

“Farmers were the first conservationists, and to this day the conservation efforts they employ will allow the land to be the most productive it can be to provide food, fiber and fuel for generations to come,” said Ohio Department of Agriculture Director David Daniels. “I am proud of each of these families for being good neighbors, handling the land with care, and helping to responsibly keep food and agriculture a top ranking industry in Ohio.”   

The five families honored were: Robert Lill of Marion County; Justin and Lowell Wolff of Medina County;  Edward and Karen Bay of Guernsey County;  William and Shauna Wilkins of Miami County; and Tim and Sandy Shoemaker and Howard Grabill of Highland County.

“Each of the five farming families we recognized operates in a different geographic area of Ohio, with differing acreages, soils, and topography,” said Kirk Hines, chief of the department’s Division of Soil and Water Conservation. “They each have a unique mixture of crops and livestock. Each farm has its own management challenges and goals. They share a common commitment to conserve natural resources; the soil, water, woodlands, and wildlife on the land they farm. Every farm and family is unique but conservation is the foundation of their livelihoods.” 

Since 1984, the Conservation Farm Family Awards program has recognized 171 Ohio farm families for their exemplary efforts conserving soil, water, woodland, wildlife and other natural resources on the land they farm. Conservation farm families also host a variety of educational programs, opening their farms to schools, scout groups, farm organizations and others.

In addition to receiving $400 each from the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, the families were also featured in the September issue of Ohio Farmer magazine and received plaques from ADS Hancor Inc. Ohio Farmer magazine has sponsored the Ohio Conservation Farm Family Awards since the program’s inception. Nominations are sought annually between January and May, and Ohio farming families are encouraged to apply. For more information or to apply individuals can contact their local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD).

Area 1 Winner- Robert Lill of Lill Family Farms has more than 1,400 acres in Marion County. Major crops include soybeans, corn, and wheat. He has been a district cooperator with the Marion SWCD for more than 50 years. Lill has converted naturally wet ground to a 4.4 acre wetland surrounded by 1.8 acres of mature prairie that is enrolled in the Wetland Reserve Program. No-till has been a regular practice on the farm since 1986. He received the Outstanding Cooperator Award from the Marion SWCD for being one of the first farmers in the Marion area to use the practice. Lill is committed to sustainable agriculture to address problems on his farm through no-till, crop residue management, crop rotation and grass waterways to protect water quality and soil erosion. The Lill Family Farm has been in the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Farmland Preservation Program since 2011. When asked to describe their conservation philosophy, Robert said, “A model farm in Marion County- Putting words to actions!”

Area 2 Winner- Justin and Lowell Wolff of Wolff Farm have 250 acres in Medina County. Major crops include corn, soybeans, and wheat, and they also raise Holstein dairy. The farm has been a cooperator with the Medina SWCD for 22 years. The Wolff Farm rotates crops that include cover crops and use no-till for soybeans. They also installed a milk house wastewater system that diverts wash water into a settling tank and then into a sprinkler system. The water is then used to irrigate pastureland. The farm was awarded the 2010 Conservation Stewardship Award by the Medina County SWCD. They are proud of the farm’s 141 year, six generation history and will gladly share the story of agriculture in Medina County to others. When asked to describe their conservation philosophy, Justin said, “We are blessed with abundant natural resources of soil, water, trees, wildlife, and natural beauty. With good stewardship they provide for us and future generations.”

Area 3 Winner- Edward and Karen Bay have more than 450 acres in Guernsey County. Major crops include corn and alfalfa hay with 200 acres in pasture. They raise Jersey dairy cattle and Angus cross beef herd. The Bays have implemented numerous conservation practices including grass waterways, spring developments, livestock watering facilities, cover crops, no-till, rotational grazing, manure storage and planting trees on active slips to prevent erosion. The Bays have been cooperators with the Guernsey SWCD for more than 40 years. They have demonstrated non-lethal wildlife damage control by using propane cannons to protect row crops, and offered alfalfa fields to test repellants to deter deer. They have twice hosted FFA soil judging competitions on their farm.  When asked about their conservation philosophy, Edward said, “We are caretakers of the land and should leave it better than we found it for future generations.”

Area 4 Winner- William and Shauna Wilkins have more than 130 acres in Miami County. Major crops include corn, soy beans, cereal rye, wheat, and hay.  Bill and Shauna Wilkins have been cooperators with the local Soil and Water Conservation District for more than 23 years. The Wilkins farm around 110 tillable acres using 100 percent no-till rotation of beans and corn.  In addition to no till, they use slow release fertilizer, regularly test soil, and have installed a grass driveway to access all crop fields on the farm and limit traffic on the cropland. The Wilkins use conservation practices visible from the road, including buffer strips, tree planting, and pollinator planting. They have worked with Ohio AgrAbility, a state organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for farmers and other agricultural workers with disabilities. In 2014, the William and Shauna Wilkins were awarded the Spirit of Easter Seals Tristate award. In 2015 they were named the Miami County Soil and Water Conservation District Cooperator of the year. When asked about their conservation philosophy, William said, “We, as farmers, are stewards of the land. We do the best we can to build the soil and wildlife habitat using proven conservation methods.”

Area 5 Winner- Tim and Sandy Shoemaker and Howard Grabill of Millstone Creek LLC farm more than 100 acres in Highland County. They raise beef cattle. Millstone Creek farm has been a cooperator with the Highland Soil and Water Conservation District for 26 years. The Millstone Creek farm property was donated and accepted into the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Farmland Preservation Agricultural Easement Donation program in 2004. The conservation practices used on the farm include; grass filter strips, exclusion fencing, pipeline, watering facilities, access roads, feeding pads, and pasture planting. The farm has hosted education events, such as a pasture management grazing school, kindergarten agriculture day tour, Highland County farm tour, and was part of an agriculture week celebration with the director of Ohio Department of Agriculture.  Millstone Creek was also part of a National Grazing Lands Coalition grant, which helped to promote soil health, and emphasized the importance of managed grazing as a key component to meeting Ohio’s water quality goals. When asked about their conservation philosophy, the Shoemakers said, “We strive to leave the environmental resources under conservation stewardship in good condition for the next generation and will continue to model conservation in a positive way to preserve their way of life.” The Shoemakers and Howard Grabill provide an outstanding example of how to incorporate conservation practices that contribute to an environmentally and economically sound operation.


Photo Cutline: Pictured are (back row, left to right): Jason Bower, sales representative for ADS Hancor Inc.; Jennifer Kiel, editor of Ohio Farmer; Yvonne Lesicko, executive vice president of Ohio Farm Bureau Federation; Kris Swartz, president of the Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts; Kirk Hines, chief of the ODA Division of Soil and Water Conservation; Mark Smith, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service;  and Tim Shoemaker, Area 5 winner. Front row (left to right): William and Shauna Wilkins, Area 4 winners; Betty Jo and Robert Lill, Area 1 winners; Lowell and Cara Wolff, Area 2 winners; Sandy Shoemaker, Area 5 winner; and Karen and Edward Bay, Area 3 winners. Photo by Dave Gore.

Lynn Snyder 

Lynn Snyder is senior director of communications for Ohio Farm Bureau.