Atascosa County SWCD holds annual awards program
The award for Resident Conservation Farmer was given by Josephine Culpepper representing the family of Kenneth Culpepper. The award was given to Lonnie Rakowitz.
The Absentee Conservation Rancher award was presented to Steven and Mary Raabe. Her award, sponsored by Wall’s, was presented by Wilbur Palmer.
Also presented at the awards dinner were honors for winning entries in the SWCD’s Poster and Essay contests. The poster award is sponsored by Pleasanton Young Farmers and the essay award is sponsored by Atascosa County Cattlemen’s Association.
Thirdgrade: 1st place-Taylor Fojtik, Riley’s HomeSchool
Fourth grade: 1st place- Nikolas Barrera, JourdantonElementary; 2ndplace- Marisa AnnHernandez, JourdantonElementary; 3rdplace-JessiePuckett, JourdantonElementary
Fifth grade: 1st place- Briana Alvarado, Poteet Intermediate; 2ndplace-Kristi AnnAguirre, Poteet Intermediate; 3rdplace- MeganWilson, Poteet Intermediate
Overall Winner: Taylor Fojtik
Essay Contest winners:
Age 13 andUnder division: 1st place-JohnEngelmann, JourdantonJr. High; 2ndplace-AshleyHuizar, PleasantonJr. High; 3rdplace-Mia Gonzalez, Riley’s Home School; HonorableMention-JoAnnForehand, PleasantonJr. High; HonorableMention-KayeE. Hubert, PleasantonJr. High
Atascosa County SWCD
2012 Conservation Farmer
This year’s conservation farmer goes to Lonnie Rakowitz who operates in the Leming- Poteet area. Always striving for improvement in everything he does, the SWCD would like to recognize his conservation efforts of the natural resources and land he works every day.
Lonnie grew up farming and ranching. His operation used to predominantly consist of cattle ranching; in fact he was awarded conservation rancher/ farmer in 1980; however his operation now encompasses row crop farming as well. Throughout the years he watched as farmers planted different crops on his land, and he knew he could do it also. He started off by farming conventionally, and soon decided that there must be a better way to reduce the amount of trips across the field and time spent in a tractor seat, all while keeping the soil in place. It was with this mindset that he began experimenting with conservation tillage, such as no-till and strip till.
Two main fields of approximately 150 acres each make up the majority of his farmland. Crops planted on these fields have ranged from green beans, cotton, peanuts, and cool season crops of wheat, oats, or ryegrass to provide soil cover and cattle forage. He has proven that less tillage and more ground cover reduces soil erosion. Based on soils tests from when he first implemented conservation tillage, the organic matter in the fields have increased from .5% to 2%, which is admirable for his sandy soils. Soils tests are also crucial in determining what nutrients are already in place, and what additional nutrients would be required for a given crop. Money can then be saved by applying those required nutrients through proper fertilizer blends and not over fertilizing. Pest management of insects and weeds is monitored as well. For every pound of weeds killed is moisture saved up for grass in the pasture or the crop in the field. Declined disease pressure has been noted in his crops through the reduced tillage and crop rotations; yields are about the same if not better from when he conventionally farmed.
Lonnie takes pride in doing things himself. By engineering and building his own equipment, he knows how every piece is going to work and saves money. Most all of the tillage and all of the planting are done by him. He has devised a system that requires only one trip across the field, taking no time to accomplish. His home built strip till rig coupled with a planter does the job just fine. When prompted, he says he doesn’t know why everybody does not do it this way. Like any project of this nature, there is always tinkering and improvements that are made over the years.
Waterways are an integral part of a properly functioning drainage system. By keeping a grass cover on these, sediment is caught and gullies are eliminated. Instead of cleaning and rebuilding these waterways entirely, he works on sections at a time so some parts of the waterways maintain a grass cover while the other pieces are being rebuilt and reestablishing in grass.
Wildlife can be havoc on crops, and just about everybody in this area is aware of the ever thriving feral hog population. Deer also, can really do a number on a peanut crop. It is commonly seen in South Texas that high fences keep deer in, and electric fences confine livestock. However, instead of chasing wildlife pests out at all hours of the night and day, and in lieu of shooting or poisoning critters, Lonnie has installed these fences to keep unwanted animals out.
On his pastureland he runs a cow-calf operation, which at times stockers may be added when forage is in abundance. Managing grazing heights of grasses and rotating through several pastures make this a success.
Through consultation with NRCS and the SWCD, Lonnie has worked to improve his conservation tillage system, but that is not his only focus. Water has been a rising concern with droughts and growing cities, and the proper use of this resource has never been more important. Working to streamline his irrigation systems with proper flow rates, pipelines and sprinkler nozzles, Lonnie will be able to more efficiently and effectively apply his irrigation water.
Lonnie couldn’t have done everything without his family though. His wife Gina is a past recipient of the Conservation Homemaker award. She helps with day to day activities; picking up supplies, feeding and working livestock, helping move machinery, and providing hearty home cooked meals. Together they raised 3 children; Walt, Jake and Chris. They have 4 grandchildren; Walt and his wife Nichole have 2 daughters, Kris and her husband Pete have 2 sons.
For his distinguished efforts in conservation, let us congratulate Lonnie Rakowitz for Conservation Farmer of the year.
2012 Absentee Conservation
This year, the Atascosa SWCD wanted to recognize a cooperator who has steadily worked with NRCS & the district to make quality improvements to an operation while also having a strong work ethic for the land and our natural resources.
Steven Raabe fits that mold, as a modest rancher in the Tordia Community, close to the Karnes County line. He and his wife, Mary Raabe, run a registered
Beefmaster cattle operation on 165 acres off CR 448 in Atascosa County. Through a rotational grazing scheme, based on current weather and rainfall, Steve runs an average of 20-25 mamma cows through an operation consisting of 113 ac owned by Mary and 52 acres leased from Mary’s uncle, David Brysch.
The land has been in Mary’s family since October 1954, when her grandfather, Isidore Brysch, bought the land because it had a plentiful supply of pricklypear cactus; which allowed him to sustain his cattle herd through the drought of the 1950s.
Steve and Mary have been managing the land since 1996. With 9 separate grazing units (pastures), they are able to have better control over their livestock and efficiently manage their grazing heights—which have directly contributed to the health of the land and sustainability of the operation (even during the recent drought— which according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, we’re not even close to being out of).
What makes the operation unique is the diversity of the system; all 9 pastures are not the same. The operation is mainly native land, with 2 large pastures (~85 ac) of a Claypan Prairie ecological site with tall mix-brush and native grass; everything from mesquite, several acacias, bumelia, condalia, etc are present.
This rangeland is special because the Los Cortes Creek (locally known as Cat Creek) runs through the northern portion. The creek brings several small drainages and small branches along with it, which provide more water flow throughout the units and even harbor a small seasonal wetland.
There are also a couple of pastures (~26 ac) that were recently managed with both livestock and wildlife in mind; clearing the native brush and planting to a native seed mix.
The crowded brush was restricting sunlight and space for grasses to grow and Steve needed additional grazing for his herd. Though in need of clearing, he wanted to maintain and enhance wildlife use, so he decided to keep it native by planting naturally occurring and adapted native plants, which are beneficial for wildlife food and a variety of shelter, as well as forage the livestock do so well on.
There’s been a true test of patience, waiting to see if the plants would make it through the recent tough times. Although still not fully established, the way the fields are managed has provided bountiful wildlife value; something to hold on to before the livestock can take advantage of the new establishment.
Another couple of pastures (~25 ac) are made up of a Blackland ecosite with short brush and native grasses; mostly Texas wintergrass. Steve is able to take advantage of the wintergrass (a native) as well as other native vegetation among it.
Lastly, there are 3 pastures (~25 ac) of kleingrass. In the Blackland/semi-Shallow ecosites, Steve has really been able to lean on this introduced, improved grass to get him through these hard times. What sets Steve’s management apart from others is when he “leans” on vegetation, he still doesn’t overgraze. He always allows the vegetation to have adequate rest so as not to deplete the plants’ energy source by continuously nipping off the base of the plant—even through the drought, the klein was very clumpy & healthy and was able to bounce back quickly. Steve understands the grass may look poor, but keeping a healthy plant base throughout a dry spell will allow the plant to come back much quicker than if it were overgrazed or “beat down” during that dry time.
The SWCD felt the Raabe’s go above and beyond the typical management of the quickest and easiest way to make a profit. What the SWCD and the NRCS want to showcase is more management of the natural resources will increase the longevity of a healthy operation, which in turn, increases your profits and improves the overall health of the ecosystem.
Steve and Mary have treated a number of resource concerns on their operation, which have improved their operation and land health. Grazing properly improves a multitude of resources: soil health, by sustaining &/or improving root growth and by adding organic matter with the appropriate amount of livestock and dead plant litter; water quality, by filtering water as it leaves the property and/or enters bodies of water; water quantity, by creating a “sponge” near water sources which holds water instead of sending it downstream; plant condition, by allowing appropriate rest for adequate growth; and animal health, by providing a better quality plant and environment for livestock & wildlife.
The additional practices that have been installed, such as over 5,500 ft of cross fences, brush management (chemical and mechanical), planting, over 1,500 ft of water lines and over 4,000 gal of water storage have allowed the grazing management to succeed, which continue to conserve the valuable resources available to them.
Steve and Mary reside in Poth, in Wilson County. Steve is the Director of Technical Services for the San Antonio River Authority and is a graduate of TAMU with a degree in Agricultural Engineering. Mary is the District Secretary for Poth ISD and is a graduate of Bee County College with an Associate’s degree in Accounting. Steve and Mary have two daughters, Tara, who is a graduate of TAMU and Texas State University and works as an environmental scientist in Austin, and Kendall, who is majoring in Horticulture at TAMU.
With all of Steve’s and his family’s hard work, in respect to conserving our natural resources, please help me congratulate Steven and Mary Raabe for earning the Absentee Conservation Rancher Award.