One of Becky Skillman's duties as Secretary of Agriculture for eight years has been helping recognize River Friendly Farmers. It usually happens at the Indiana State Fair, as it did this year. Some 60 farmers, who were nominated by their soil and water conservation districts, were recognized in 2012, bringing the number to nearly 700 farmers that have earned this distinction.
Someone asked "If this many are awarded, is it really an honor?" Anyone who works with these farmers or knows them and the quality of their work would answer yes without hesitation.
When the winners are introduced, their watersheds are named, along with their county. The focal point of the program is protecting water quality. These farmers have all installed practices of varied farming methods so that they protect, maintain and/or improve the quality of water in their watershed.
Practices they employ range from no-till to grass waterways and filter strips to planting trees. Some of the recipients are landowners who have made improvements, but who don't actually farm the land.
Each recipient receives a blue ribbon, certificate and also a sign to post on their farm declaring that they are a River Friendly Farmer in Indiana.
"Put those down at the entrance to your lane, guys," says Ray McCormick, president of the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. McCormick is a past recipient and a conservation-minded farmer in Knox County. "Don't put them back on the barn somewhere. Let people see them and be proud of what you have accomplished."
Indiana Farm Bureau is a big player in providing the funding for the awards for the program. Don Villwock, president of the Indiana Farm Bureau and a farmer form Edwardsport, joined Secretary of Agriculture Skillman in passing out the ribbons and certificates to each individual winner this year.
To learn how to start the ball rolling toward nominating someone you think should be a River Friendly Farmer next year, or to find out if the person you are considering has received the award, visit your local SWCD office.