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Dunham Family Farms honored for conservation efforts

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 5 February 2014 at 12:00 am

Mark Dunham and his son Brian appeared on the January cover of the American Agriculturist magazine. The two talked about the benefits of a new tile plow.

KNOWLESVILLE – A seven-generation farm that has embraced new ways of planting crops and preserving soil health has been named the “Conservation Farm of the Year” in Orleans County.

Dunham Family Farms in Knowlesville received the award today at the annual meeting for the Orleans County Soil and Water Conservation District at Tillman’s Village Inn.

The farm works 2,000 acres and had adopted many conservation practices, including no-tillage planting, cover crops and installation of drainage tile. Dunham also is working on precision nutrient management.

“We’re honoring somebody who has concentrated on the stewardship of the land,” said Dennis Kirby, district manager for Soil and Water.

The farm about eight years ago started to use no-till for planting. Rather than plowing a field before planting, the farm minimally disturbs the soil for planting. That has kept microorganisms thriving in the soil.

“We’ve seen some big advantages with no-till,” said Brian Dunham, co-owner of the farm with his father Mark. “The soil is a living organism in itself. Every time you disk or plow a field, you disrupt it.”

Dunham Family Farms has seen its yields increase for corn and soybeans through no-till. The farm saves fuel costs because it’s not running as much equipment over the fields, Dunham said.

The farm purchased a tile plow last year and has used that to add drainage tiles to some of its land. That has helped the ground to dry out sooner in the spring for planting and do better at moving water off crops after big storms.

Brian, 31, said the entire farm has embraced no-till and conservation practices. After several years of effort, it is paying off with healthier soils and bigger crops.

“I’m really proud of the effort everyone puts in,” Brian said. “It’s not just one year or one field. It’s a mindset that everyone buys into.”

Brian works closely with his father. Brian’s brother Tim also works part-time on the farm. His full-time job is as a school administrator at Holley.

Richard Dunham, Brian and Tim’s grandfather, remains active on the farm. At one time Richard had the largest hog operation in the state, Kirby said.

Dunham Family Farm now grows corn on 1,000 acres, 700 acres of soybeans, 200 acres of wheat and 100 acres of peas.

The farm is now incorporating precision nutrient management. That involves taking soil tests in the fields and entering those results on a map. A computer records that data and feeds it to GPS systems on farm equipment. Rather than blanketing an entire field with the same amount of fertilizer, precision nutrient management varies the application.

“It is based on need,” Kirby said. “You match the use with the need. That saves the extra fertilizer from becoming run-off.”