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My farming goals differ at 64 from what they were at 44. Profit is, of course, still a driver, but I’m not as interested in fine-tuning yields or producing bin-busting crops. Instead, I now focus on reducing inputs, curbing soil erosion, decreasing nutrient pollution and preserving the farmland that’s sustained our family for 185 years. Today our operation is a combination of family farms that my mother, sister, my wife, Barb, and I own and manage, with some acreage dating back to 1838, plus purchased neighborhood farms.
Some of the acres Barb and I farm today came into the family in sad shape. Aerial pictures show an erosion disaster when my grandfather purchased a 480-acre farm in 1950. Back then — and throughout the 1980s — Missouri was losing more than 12 tons of topsoil per acre per year. Today that number is down to fewer than 6 tons of topsoil loss per acre per year. My father and mother certainly did their part to bring that statewide number down throughout their more than 40 years of farming. Besides his farm work, my father was heavily involved in Missouri’s efforts to reduce soil erosion. He helped pass a 1/10-cent sales tax to support state parks and Missouri’s soil and water conservation.
When my father returned home from the Korean War in 1953, the degraded land my grandfather bought was in the same shape as when it was purchased. He was convinced there had to be a way to stop the…