Tonica farm family honored by LaSalle Soil, Water District
TONICA — With decades of experience using soil conservation practices that many still haven’t adopted, Payne Farms is deserving of recognition.
This Tonica family farm, led by Jim Payne, with help from sons Brian and Jimmy, was recently named the 2018 Conservation Farm Family of the Year by the LaSalle County Soil and Water Conservation District for their ongoing efforts.
“This award was a surprise, but we’ve always been conscientious of our waterways, and our landowners are supportive, too,” Jim, a fourth-generation farmer who began on his own in 1957, said.
Growing corn and soybeans, Jimmy said their cornfields have been strip-tilled for about 25 years and their bean fields for at least 30 years.
Strip-tilling is typically done following the harvest and consists of a minimal disruption to the soil. No-tilling leaves the remains of last year’s crop in place. Both practices minimize soil and nutrient loss.
Filter strips are another method the Payne family has used to reduce soil and nutrient loss. Typically placed in lower areas where water collects or runs through, they’re areas that are left untilled and unplanted.
The Paynes also regularly test their soil in different areas and apply only the amount of fertilizer needed, reducing the amount of runoff and making their operation as efficient as possible.
“Too much fertilizer is just as bad as not enough,” Jimmy said.
When asked why more farmers don’t adopt conservation practices, Jimmy said it was a result of impatience.
“It can take a few years to see the positive results, and things may even get worse during the first year before the soil stabilizes,” he said.
Jim is also a supporter of the Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The CRP allows farmers to remove portions of environmentally valuable land from production in exchange for an annual payment.
The program’s goal is to not only reduce erosion and nutrient pollution, but also to increase valuable wildlife habitat.
“We don’t have near the wildlife we used to in this area. We used to have a lot of pheasants and bobwhite quail around, but I haven’t seen any in years. If we can help by having a small piece of land set aside for them, then that’s a good thing,” Jimmy said.
The family owns 10 trucks, and in addition to hauling their grain, they also haul items including sand, mulch and other materials.
Jim said the farm at one time was home to 800 hogs and “was a full-blown farm with livestock,” but added that part of it had “dwindled away over the last 15 years, or so,” as agricultural has trended toward increasingly larger operations.
He also said the average farmer is getting older, and that there aren’t nearly as many small family farms as there used to be.
“There are so many challenges for the younger farmers coming up that it’s hard to keep up with them, especially with technology, but they seem to understand it,” he said.
The current trade war tariffs have provided yet another challenge for the small farmer. Jim said he’d been through it before, and that while he’d rather see free and open trade, he added that once everything was worked out, it should get better.
“It’s something different every year, but there’s always a challenge. Mother Nature is the boss of everything,” he said.
According to the district’s press release, the Paynes farm in Eden, Vermilion, Hope, and LaSalle townships in the southwestern part of LaSalle County. Jim said his landlords are a huge part of being able to farm, and that without them, they couldn’t do what they love.
Good land stewardship isn’t uncommon in the Tonica area, as in 2016, the Bangerts were another local farm family awarded the Conservation Farm Family of the Year.
“We’re just an independent bunch of people who do what we need to,” Jim said.