By Sheila McCoy, Staff Writer
Conservation is not really a new concept for Bob Spandl of Browerville. Growing up on a dairy farm with rolling fields, it was necessary to contour strip and whatever else they could to prevent erosion.
He continued to conserve nature when he bought his own farm several years later.
Even though Spandl has since left the farming business, he continues to conserve nature in any way he can.
“It’s important to try to take care of the land, so when we leave it to our grandkids, it’s nice. We don’t want to pollute everything, but want to take care of our soil,” he said.
More than a decade ago, when Spandl bought the farm he and his wife, Karen, currently live on, he signed up for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). It is a program the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers landowners to plant a variety of species that will improve the environmental quality of the land.
“Before we bought the land, it was farmed by good, but traditional farmers. They farmed up and over the fields and as a result, there were a lot of washouts in the fields,” Spandl said.
Spandl hired a man to help him fill in the washouts with dirt and seed them.
In addition to turning the fields into prairie grass and wildflowers, the couple also planted 4,500 trees at five different locations. Later on, they planted an additional 500 trees.
“We had a few busy years of planting a mixture of pine, spruce, oak, flowering crab and chokecherry,” he said.
Not only did it give wildlife, such as birds and deer something to eat, it also provided the Spandls with a windbreak once the trees grew tall enough. It helped prevent wind erosion.
“Before it was just so open,” Spandl said.
To increase the survival rate of the trees, the couple watered them significantly the first two years. “I had a 200-gallon tank that had been used for chemicals, but I converted it into just spraying water for the trees. It was a lot of work, but in the end, it paid off. Karen did a lot of this,” he said.
Since the CRP program the Spandls signed up for in 2003 has expired, they reapplied. This time to make an impact on pollinators.
According to the USDA, pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, wasps, birds and bats are necessary for pollinating more than 80 percent of plants in nature. They are also instrumental in producing more than one-third of the food in the United States.
Earlier this spring, the Spandls conducted a prescribed burn on 75 acres and planted nine varieties of spring, summer and fall wildflowers in four fields.
“We got it down to the bare ground without having to till it up. We had a professional come in to burn it and I helped him,” Spandl.
While some flowers are blooming this year, some will not take hold until next year, Spandl said.
Even though the Spandls have already put in the hardest work, the conservation areas still need to be maintained.
Weeds, such as thistles, and other noxious plants, are sprayed with a chemical.
“I carefully spot spray right on top of them. I don’t want to spray a whole field of chemicals. While I want to keep the fields as natural as possible. I also don’t want the weeds to take over,” Spandl said.
Another threat to the health of the land is gophers. Once a year, Spandl arranges for someone to come in and trap them.
In addition, he mows around the trees four to five times a year.
“I also cut the grass down in the fields every so many years to help rejuvenate it,” Spandl said.
As a result of their conservation methods, the couple has seen a significant increase in the wildlife population around their property. It has also given them beautiful trails to walk on — something they like to do every day, Spandl said.