Latah Soil and Water Conservation District

Kevin Meyer
Meet the District Supervisors: Kevin Meyer

Reprinted from The Working Conservationist, Winter 2009

By Ken Preston

As a teenager, Kevin Meyer learned the importance of good land stewardship and conservation from his dad. He remembers his father being on the Palouse Soil and Water Conservation District in Pullman, Washington, and making trips to Moses Lake, Washington, to pick up conservation tree seedlings for local plantings. Kevin also recalls his dad being one of the first farmers to utilize uphill plowing as a soil conservation method, and the subsequent research on its merits conducted by Washington State University on his dad's farm. These things influenced Kevin, and conservation remains a central theme of his own farming endeavors today.

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Latah SWCD board supervisor Kevin Meyer. Photo by Patrick Adams

Kevin Meyer grew up in Colton, Washington, where he graduated from high school. He fondly recalls his senior year when the baseball and football teams both won state championships, for which he respectively played first base and offensive tackle. After high school, Kevin attended Walla Walla Community College, where he again played football, while majoring in Agri-Business. His first agricultural employment began in 1978, working summers for his dad, and seeking whatever work he could find elsewhere during the winter months. Kevin and his younger brother began farming on a full-time basis with their dad in the 1980's. His brother decided on a career change, and left farming in 2004. Since then, Kevin has carried on by himself, with some sage oversight and assistance from his parents. Kevin's Mom does the bookkeeping, while Kevin's dad-still spry at age 82-helps Kevin with a variety of things such as moving equipment. Both parents still offer him much empirical wisdom and sometimes stern advice. Kevin, at age 50, has four children (two boys and two girls), three grandchildren, and two more on the way.

Kevin began experimenting with crop rotations on the farm in Colton, Washington. He eventually switched from a 2-year to a 3-year rotation and realized such positive results that he applied a 3-year rotation to his Latah County acreage. He credits that change as being the major springboard to the more intense conservation farming he utilizes today. Kevin cites the rotation as a key element in a healthy farming operation. He notes how it "improves the soil health, the residue amounts, organic matter, and yields." He further points out, "I wouldn't be farming today without having made the switch to a 3­year rotation." It has allowed Kevin to shift ever closer to a direct seed operation. He proudly states, "This was the first fall I didn't plow even a single acre." In addition to his conservation tillage, Kevin utilizes many other stewardship practices, such as grassed waterways, filter strips, and divided slopes.

Kevin joined the Latah Soil and Water Conservation District (Latah SWCD) in the late 1990's. Again, it was the influence of having seen his father work for a Conservation District that prompted Kevin to also become involved. After serving for several years, Kevin took a three-year hiatus, but returned again 2004 and continues serving today. He came to Latah SWCD at a very crucial time. The State had just issued its Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) stream mandates, and Latah SWCD's involvement and work load was significantly increased. He remembers the Board meetings sometimes lasting until the early morning hours. He says the TMDL process was a crucial step which led Latah SWCD on a path from its more mundane, obligatory duties towards becoming one of the most progressive and proactive soil and water conservation districts in the entire state. He additionally credits Latah SWCD District Manager, Ken Stinson, with spearheading Latah SWCD's growth and success. For Kevin, the satisfaction of knowing Latah SWCD is helping get conservation on the ground is what keeps him returning to serve Latah SWCD's mission. He states, "I always think there's more we can do and need to do to be more visible and influential to Latah County growers." Besides being a Latah SWCD supervisor, Kevin also volunteers his time as Chairman of the Potlatch River Watershed Advisory Group, and to the Producer Board of STEEP3 (Solutions to Environmental and Economic Problems) as a representative from the Idaho Association of Soil Conservation Districts. Kevin is pleased with the results he has seen from the Latah SWCD's programs promoting reduced tillage in the Potlatch and Cow Creek drainages. "It used to be that everyone plowed," he says, "but nowadays, I only know of a couple of farmers still using deep tillage." Kevin says he has found much inspiration from farmers such as Wayne Jensen, and Joe and Jay Anderson. He describes them as being a type of direct seed pathfinders, leading the way for others to follow. Kevin says he can't state how much he appreciates their generous sharing of knowledge on both successes and failures. "Just raising awareness is an extremely important part of helping people."

One of Kevin's main concerns for the future of Latah County is the proliferation of housing devel0pments on agricultural land. Aside from the permanent loss of productive farm ground, the subsequent erosion and weed problems that accompany housing development also concern him. As a conservation-minded person, Kevin is troubled that housing developments aren't required to have a conservation plan as do farm operations. Additionally, the transition of rural land to suburbs stresses the aquifers and adds to the current energy crisis. The location of many of the newer homes is of puzzlement and concern to anyone who thinks about conservation as Kevin does. "Building a home on a ridge top, where it will suffer heat loss from cold winter winds, and require extra air conditioning as it bakes in the summer heat, makes no sense from an energy perspective or from an overall environmental one. I think there needs to be better planning and better education."

Of particular concern to Kevin is the average age of today's farmer. The number of young people coming up in the farming business is alarmingly scant. He understands it in many ways, however, considering the formidable capital required, as well as the long hours and uncertainty surrounding everything from weather to crop prices. He recognizes that are more secure ways to make a living by investing less, risking less and working less. "My grandfather began farming in the 1920's", Kevin says. Then, with a bittersweet tone to his voice like that of a last soldier standing, he prophesizes, "The family farm will probably end with me."

Sadly, that may be true. But the conservation Kevin Meyer has put on the ground will live on forever. For those efforts and sacrifices, we all say, ‘Thank you, Kevin'.

Ken Preston is a Resource Conservation Planner for the Latah Soil and Water Conservation District

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