Grass buffer strips help farmer withstand Stranger Creek’s floods
Albert Joe Doege knows all too well the challenges - and the rewards - of farming along Stranger Creek.
For the 84-year-old Doege, who's lived near the creek all of his life, his yearly memories are likely to include a flood or two. In fact, in a recent year, his land was soaked by five floods.
After a heavy rain, creek water washes over the rich soil of his low-lying fields, flooding his crops and carving new channels in the dirt.
Albert Joe and his wife, Celesta, were honored as this year's buffer strip soil conservation winners.
Three years ago, the couple established a grass planting that serves as a buffer strip between the field and the creek. The strip runs along the creek about 120 feet back out to the field.
Its purpose is two-fold, Doege said.
It filters the water that runs through it, and in slowing the flow of water, keeps the field from eroding.
"This is not unique," Doege said. "There are several places up and down Stranger Creek where this has happened. The buffer strip I hope will help that."
The Doeges, who own about 490 acres, have applied other conservation measures to their land. About 120 acres has been enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program for five years. This means the land is planted in native grasses. In turn, the owner signs a 10-year contract and receives an annual payment from the government.
Doege chafes when he compares modern farming methods to the older way.
He's one of the few lifelong farmers around who can remember his own father using a steam-powered threshing machine. And, Doege, who later ran a custom combining service, owned the first self-propelled combine in Leavenworth County. He bought it new in 1947.
"Modern farming is not conducive to conservation farming, although they're promoting no-till and minimum till," Doege said. "But big farmers are kind of iffy on that - they don't want to go that way. They think that buying big machines and tearing up the earth is the way to go."
He predicts that will change.
"Conservation farming is a coming thing," Doege said. "But it's going to be very hard to get a lot of people to go that way."
Every year the Doeges debate whether Albert Joe will firmly retire. Celesta tells him it's time to slow down. But Doege, who has been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, doesn't complain about the work.
Currently, Doege tends six cattle and 40 sheep. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, twin lambs were born at the farm, and there were still five ewes left to give birth.
And, with part of their land in conservation grasses and part of it farmed by others, he's been able to keep the farm going and postpone retirement.
The Doeges, who have been married for 40 years, met when Celesta was working in Boulder, Colo.
Asked how they met, Celesta smiled and said matter-of-factly, "The Holy Spirit brought us together."
Albert added, "When you look around for girls, you look wide and far."
After marrying, the couple traveled the world. Celesta quickly cited a list of places they've been - including Australia, New Zealand, China, Siberia, Yugoslavia and Poland. In 2001 the couple took a trans-continental train ride across Canada.
And yet both were always content to return to their home north of Tonganoxie.
Perhaps that was because of their mutual agricultural backgrounds. Celesta grew up in North Dakota and Minnesota where her parents were dairy farmers.
Albert Joe said that during his lifetime he's observed how powerful the results of rushing water can be. In some locations on his land, added soil deposits reach three to four feet deep.
"The top of the fence posts are level with one field now," he said.
And several cement water tanks for cattle are fast disappearing.
"The tank didn't settle into the ground," Doege said. "The ground filled up as the creek flowed over it. Every time it left a little silt. One of the tanks I can't find now, two others I know where they are."
Doege, who said Stranger Creek stretches 51 miles from Linwood to the football field in Effingham, has worked on the Big Stranger watershed flood control project.
"We've worked on that for years and years," Doege said. "I'm thinking that someday we'll have flood control for Stranger Creek."
Doege was modest about winning the buffer award.
"I didn't anticipate that," Doege said. "I don't think that I've done that great a thing by doing that filter strip - it's probably a common thing all over the county to help with erosion control and quality of the water."
This is what the program's all about, said Gary Rader, district conservationist with Natural Resources Conservation Service.
"He (Doege) was hoping to reduce the damage from erosion on his place," Rader said. "It's also for that, but really, the whole idea behind it is to prevent sediments and stuff from entering the stream."