There are two things you need to farm: soil and water. For the David Felumlee family in east-central Ohio, protecting those two resources has been a decades-long process that has paid dividends both to their bottom line and to the environment.
Orville Felumlee, David’s father, started farming in 1961 with his wife, Rachel. Their operation quickly gravitated to trying conservation actions and helping educate others along the way. Orville became the first farmer in Licking County to use no-till in the late 1960s, and he hosted no-till and forage field days when David was young.
“I grew up around conservation. It’s not something we decided to do just because it’s the thing to do,” David says. “We’ve done it that way since I was little. It’s just part of the way we always manage our farm to try to make everything work together.”
David rotates crops between his 1,200 acres of corn and soybeans, 300 acres of pasture and 250 acres of hay for their cow-calf and finishing cattle operation.
“We’ll try to rotate fields every four or five years to build up organic matter and soil just to get a different rotation,” he says. “We’ve got some fields that stay predominantly forage because of the slope and erosion chances.”
Some ground still requires reduced tillage or minimal tillage, he explains, but the overall better soil health built up over the years benefits from the rotation.
“We manage our cows to utilize what we produce for each forage-wise and crop-wise,” David says. “And we manage our crops the best way we can, not only to maintain the best bottom line and to be profitable, but also to be good for the environment.”
Although there’s an initial cost associated with doing these conservation practices, David has found it becomes more profitable long term. Actions such as variable-rate fertilizer and grid sampling pay for themselves, while rotating crops and cover crops builds soil health and decreases weed and insect pressure.
For their conservation efforts, the Felumlee family has been named a 2022 Ohio Conservation Farm Family and will be honored Sept. 22 during the Farm Science Review.
“The Felumlee family runs an innovative family farm that takes pride in the land; they are conservation-minded in all aspects of their farm program,” says nominator Brent Dennis, district agriculture technician for Licking County Soil and Water Conservation District.
Claylick Run Farms instituted rotational grazing, which allows for them to rotate cows between different paddocks of 15- to 20-acre sections. David’s goal is to only allow cattle to graze on each section for about five to six days, allowing for sufficient regrowth and minimizing damage on moving days, especially after a rain.
He used the Environmental Quality Incentives Program’s 80% cost-share payments to run hundreds of feet of water lines in the pasture, allowing water access throughout. They’ve also done multiple spring developments.
“This allows for better usage of the pastures, and then we don’t have to let the cows have access to streams,” David says.
Where the cattle come up to the barn, David installed a geotextile cloth and stone to keep the pathway on the steep terrain from eroding and added several feeding pads.
Water quality measures
Grid sampling and variable-rate fertilizer use has not only saved the Felumlees money, but it also is a “no-brainer” in helping keep the nutrients where they need to be. They’ve also planted grass waterways and used filter strips around the fields anywhere close to streams and rivers.
“You don’t have to worry about anything getting into the streams that may contaminate that water,” David says. “Usually those outside rows are not the most productive, so now we’re no longer dumping excess fertilizer, chemicals or anything there.”
David says he’s always used the saying, “We all live downstream from someone.” He hopes others have the same mentality of preserving the water before it flows downstream to someone else.
The family worked with the Ohio Division of Natural Resources in the 1980s with different cover crops. Those experiences are still relevant today as they’re using that knowledge to try different cover crop varieties and application methods.
For the past 10-12 years, nearly all of their acreage has some form of cover crops with the use of cereal rye and barley planted behind soybean and corn silage acres. David also bales some of the barley for additional winter forage for the cattle.
The Muskingum River Watershed, which covers more than 8,000 square miles and drains into the Muskingum River, is the largest wholly contained watershed in the state of Ohio, covering about 20% of the state.
The watershed offers farmers $13 per acre for up to 200 acres of planted cover crops each year, which David has used and encouraged other farmer to take advantage of to improve understanding of how cover crops work.
On his land, which includes both rolling hills and river bottoms that often flood, cover crops are one of the few things holding the soil in place. Since he applies manure at different times, he also wants to see those nutrients absorbed in the plant as quickly as possible, which is aided with a cover crop. Cover crops not only improve soil health, but also have proved beneficial in weed control.
David recalls one of the first years of planting a cover crop of rye. It was a wet spring, and they didn’t get a burndown.
“It was 4 feet tall, and I thought it was going to be a disaster. For the first month after we put the corn in, it looked like a disaster. And then the corn outgrew the rye,” he says, noting it was one of the best corn crops they ever harvested.
“Weed control was incredible. Just our initial burndown was the only thing that we had to apply.”
David has been an active voice in state and national organizations, including the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and often opens his farm to those not familiar with agriculture with blogger tours and hosting events.
He followed in the footsteps of his dad by being involved in different organizations and serving on the Licking County Water and Conservation Board.
“I’ve tried to be active in organizations partly to give back, but also to make sure you understand what policies are coming because a lot of them kind of blindside you if you’re not paying attention,” David says.
Although he doesn’t farm in the watersheds targeted by the H2Ohio regulations, he’s tried to be proactive in what actions he takes on his farm to better educate regulators on what the impact could be if similar regulations are made statewide.
As regulations are discussed, he can then provide real-world insight of what situations may look like of proposed regulations, and how some situations may not provide the desired outcome or be feasible for farmers.
“If you’re reactionary, you’re always behind. You’re always trying to defend instead of going on the offense,” David says. “I’ve always tried to be involved and share my experiences and try to be open-minded about things.”
The family: David Felumlee started his own cattle herd in 1983 with the establishment of Claylick Run Farm, and joined the farm his father, Orville, and mother, Rachel, started in 1961. David and his wife, Dawn, have two children who still stay involved in the farming operation, while also having jobs off the farm. Their daughter, Keri, works nearby for Granville Milling and helps out with cattle on the farm, and also has her own meat goat herd. Her fiancé, Justin Simpson, works full time on the farm. Their son, Kacey, recently graduated high school and continues to help on the farm with planting and harvesting, as well as working for a local construction company.
The farm: Claylick Run Farm is situated on Claylick Run Creek and features 1,200 acres of corn and soybeans, 300 acres of pasture, 250 acres of hay and 130 cows as part of the cow-calf operation to sell 50 bulls each spring.
Nominator: Brent Dennis, Licking County Soil & Water Conservation District agricultural technician
Outreach and education: David Felumlee regularly hosts tours and outreach events on his farm to share his story. This includes the Licking County Farm Bureau Farm Tour, Farm Safety Day Camps, Certified Angus Beef group tours, Ohio Cattlemen’s Association Bloggers Tour, Licking County Farm to Plate dinner host, NRCS pasture walks, conservation field days and international group tours through Ohio State University.
Community leadership: Felumlee has been involved in the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association and Ohio Beef Council and served as president of OCA from 2010-2011. He has been a Licking County 4-H adviser for 31 years and cherishes hearing stories from past members about the benefit 4-H played in their lives. He’s been on the county operating committee of the Licking County USDA Farm Service Agency. Additional activities include involvement with the Licking County Farm Bureau, Licking County Professional Agrarian’s Club and Licking Valley High School FFA Alumni.