FAYETTE - Turning some of his most productive farm ground into a wetlands wasn't easy for Jim Nicolen, who has farmed about 3.5 miles south of Fayette in Franklin Township all his life.
Not only was it hard to think of giving up top yields there, but it required much drainage and excavation - as well as lots of planning and paperwork to get federal conservation subsidies and incentives for the project.
It was, however, the right thing to do, Mr. Nicolen said.
The water that runs out of his fields tends to be clear these days whereas years ago, before he added the wetlands as well as grass waterways, filter strips, more trees, and more no-till farming practices, he would sometimes see "liquid mud" running off his land. And that mud had to be carrying valuable topsoil as well as fertilizers and pesticides out of his fields and into waterways in the Tiffin River Watershed.
Last week he got more validation for those changes.
Mr. Nicolen was recognized by the Fulton Soil and Water Conservation District as its cooperator of the year - its top award given to landowners - during the district's annual banquet attended by more than 200 people.
The award was a surprise and Mr. Nicolen says as his list of conservation practices and projects was read he was trying to figure out who the winner was just like everyone else. He'd forgotten, he says, some of the conservation work he's done over the years with the district.
He started such undertakings in 1992. And in the past 15 years he has installed 2,500 feet of grassed waterways, seven acres of filter strips, restored a more than 31 acre wetland, managed a woodlot, and planted another three acres to trees.
Those trees - white oak, black cherry, and black walnut - probably won't mature for harvest in Mr. Nicolen's lifetime. He's 65 and has been retired since 1990 from the work in machining, mechanics, and quality control that for 30 years he did in addition to farming
But that's the case with much of his conservation work: it might help the next generation more than it does him.
That's not to say he hasn't seen benefits already. Conservation measures have brought more pheasants, ducks, and geese to his land and he enjoys hunting. And federal agriculture and conservation programs have provided incentives that pay about as much for some of the measures he's undertaken as he might have reaped by farming that land traditionally.
Although Mr. Nicolen says he subscribes to the theory "the less government the better," he finds conservation programs to be one of the best uses of taxpayer dollars.
And he says he hopes such programs help encourage landowners to take it upon themselves to do the right thing.
"We're better being a little better steward than waiting until we have too many regulations," he says.
Also honored by the Fulton conservation district last week were eight people who shared the district's booster of the year award for organizing Ag Fest, a fall agriculture program for fourth-graders that is sponsored by the conservation district: Michelle Johnson, who represents fourth grade teachers on the committee, Sue Hanifan, who represents agriculture teachers, Sally Kovar who represents the Northwest Educational Service Center, Don Krieger, who represents the county recycling center, Teresa Mann who represents home schooling parents, Jill Stechschulte who represents 4-H, and Roy Norman and Carol Willson of Fulton County Farm Bureau.