Conservation makes business sense for the Felumlee family

There are two things you need to grow: soil and water. For the David Fellumley family in east-central Ohio, protecting these two resources has been a decades-long process that has paid dividends for both their bottom line and the environment.

Orville Fellumley, David’s father, began farming in 1961 with his wife Rachel. Their work quickly shifted to piloting conservation actions and helping educate others along the way. Orville became the first farmer in Licking County to use no-till in the late 1960s, and he hosted no-till and forage field days when David was young.

“I grew up around conservation. It’s not something we decided to do just because it’s what we have to do,” says David. “We’ve been doing it this way since we were little. It’s just part of how we always run our farm to try to do everything together.”

David rotates crops between his 1,200 acres of corn and soybeans, 300 acres of pasture and 250 acres of hay for their cow-calf and finisher cattle operation.

“We’ll try to rotate the fields every four or five years to build up organic matter and soil, just to get a different rotation,” he says. “We have some fields that remain mostly forage because of the slope and the chances of erosion.”

Some land still requires reduced tillage or minimal tillage, he explains, but the overall better soil health built up over the years benefits the rotation.

“We manage our cows to use what we produce for each feed and crop,” says David. “And we manage our crops the best way we can, not only to maintain the best bottom line and be profitable, but also to be good for the environment.”

Although there is an upfront cost associated with carrying out these conservation practices, David has found that it becomes more profitable in the long run. Actions such as variable rate fertilizer and grid sampling pay off, while rotational crops and cover crops build soil health and reduce weed and insect pressure.

Because of their conservation efforts, the Felumlee family has been named a 2022 Ohio Conservation Farm Family and will be honored Sept. 22 during Farm Science Review.

“The Felumlee family run an innovative family farm that takes pride in the land; they are environmentally conscious in all aspects of their farming program,” said nominator Brent Dennis, district agricultural technician for the Licking County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Rotational grazing

Claylick Run Farms has introduced rotational grazing that allows them to rotate cows between different 15- to 20-acre paddocks. David’s goal is to allow cattle to graze each section for only about five to six days, allowing for sufficient regrowth and minimizing damage on moving days, especially after rain.

He used 80% Environmental Quality Incentives Program cost-sharing payments to run hundreds of feet of water mains into the rangeland, allowing access to water everywhere. They also did a ton of spring development.

“It allows better use of the pastures and then we don’t have to let the cows access streams,” says David.

Where the cattle come up to the barn, David laid geotextile fabric and stone to protect the path on the steep terrain from erosion, and added some feeding pads.

Water quality measures

Sampling the grid and using a variable rate fertilizer not only saves Felumlees money, but is also a “no-brainer” for keeping nutrients where they need to be. They have also planted grassy waterways and used filter strips around fields anywhere near streams and rivers.

“You don’t have to worry about anything getting into the streams that could contaminate that water,” says David. “Typically those outer rows aren’t the most productive, so now we’re not dumping excess fertilizers or chemicals or anything out there.”

David says he always used the saying “We all live downstream from someone”. He hopes others have the same mentality to conserve water before it flows downstream to someone else.

Cover crops

The family worked with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in the 1980s with a variety of cover crops. These experiences are still relevant today as they use this knowledge to test different cover crop varieties and application methods.

Over the past 10-12 years, almost all of their acreage has had some form of cover cropping with the use of grain rye and barley planted behind acres of soybeans and corn silage. David also baled some barley for extra winter feed for the livestock.

The Muskingum River watershed, which encompasses more than 8,000 square miles and drains into the Muskingum River, is the largest fully confined watershed in the state of Ohio, covering about 20% of the state.

The watershed offers farmers $13 an acre for up to 200 acres of cover crops planted each year, which David has taken advantage of and encouraged other farmers to take advantage of to improve understanding of how cover crops work.

On his land, which includes both rolling hills and river bottoms that often flood, cover crops are one of the few things that hold the soil in place. Because he applies manure at different times, he also wants those nutrients to be absorbed into the plant as quickly as possible, which is aided by a cover crop. Cover crops not only improve soil health, but have also been shown to be beneficial in controlling weeds.

David remembers one of the first years of planting a rye cover crop. It was a wet spring and they didn’t burn.

“It was 4 feet tall and I thought it was going to be a disaster. The first month after we put the corn in it looked like a disaster. And then the corn outperformed the rye,” he says, noting that it was one of the best corn crops ever harvested.

“The weed control was amazing. Just our initial burn was the only thing we had to implement.”

Effective voice

David has been an active voice in state and national organizations, including the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association and the National Cattlemen’s Association, and often opens his farm to people unfamiliar with agriculture with blogger tours and hosting events.

He followed in his father’s footsteps by being involved in various organizations and serving on the Licking County Water and Conservation Board.

“I’ve been trying to be active in organizations partly to give back, but also to make sure you understand what policies are coming, because a lot of them blindside you if you’re not paying attention,” says David.

Although he does not farm in the watersheds targeted by the H2Ohio regulations, he has tried to be proactive in the actions he takes on his farm to better educate regulators about what the impact could be, if similar regulations are introduced across the country.

As regulations are debated, it can provide real-world insight into what situations of proposed regulations might look like and how some situations may not deliver the desired outcome or be feasible for farmers.

“If you’re reactionary, you’re always behind. You always try to defend instead of attack,” says David. “I’ve always tried to be involved and share my experiences and be open-minded about things.”

The family: David Fellumley established his own cattle herd in 1983 with the establishment of Claylick Run Farm and joined the farm that his father, Orville, and mother, Rachel, had established in 1961. David and his wife, Dawn, have two children, who are still involved in farming while also having off-farm work. Their daughter, Kerry, works nearby for Granville Milling and helps with the livestock on the farm, and also has her own herd of meat goats. Her fiancé, Justin Simpson, works full-time on the farm. Their son, Casey, recently graduated high school and continues to help out on the farm with planting and harvesting, as well as working for a local construction company.

The farm: Claylick Run Farm is located on Claylick Run Creek and has 1,200 acres of corn and soybeans, 300 acres of pasture, 250 acres of hay and 130 cows as part of a cow-calf operation selling 50 bulls each spring.

nominated: Brent Dennis, Licking County Soil and Water Conservation Agricultural Technician

Scope and Education: David Phelumley regularly organizes tours and informational events at his farm to share his story. This includes a Licking County Farm Bureau Farm Tour, Farm Safety Day Camps, Certified Angus Beef Group Tours, Ohio Cattlemen’s Association Blogger Tour, Licking County Farm to Plate Dinner Host, Pasture Walks of NRCS, conservation field days and international group tours through Ohio State University.

Community Leadership: Felumlee has been involved with the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association and the Ohio Beef Council and served as OCA President from 2010-2011. He has been the Licking County 4-H advisor for 31 years and enjoys hearing stories from past members for the benefit 4-H has played in their lives. He served on the Licking County USDA Farm Service Agency County Operations Committee. Additional activities include participation in the Licking County Farm Bureau, the Licking County Professional Agricultural Club and the Licking Valley High School FFA Alumni.

Leave a Comment