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The Versailles Republican

March 5, 2015 • Headlines
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Indiana University Singing Hoosiers will perform in Batesville on Sunday. For more information, pick up a copy of The Versailles Republican at your local newsstand and read all the details on page 3.
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As part of a weekend drill, cadets visited the Warbirds Museum in Indianapolis. Pick up The Versailles Republican at your local newsstand and read the entire story about Koen Novinger of Milan.
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Friendship Fire Dept. was responding to a barn fire Tuesday at approximately 8:07 a.m. traveling east on State Road 62 in Friendship. Icy road conditions contributed to a mechanical failure of the truck causing loss of steering, which resulted in the vehicle leaving the roadway and striking a house. There were occupants in the home but no one was injured. Firefighters did save the barn on Farmer’s Retreat Road. SUBMITTED PHOTO
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Soil and conservation annual awards
Farmers recognized for conservation

Mary Mattingly
EDITOR
mmattingly@ripleynews.com

The farmer recognized as this year’s Conservation Farmer of the Year for Ripley County is not only an advocate for conservation, but also agriculture. James D. Benham, a life-long resident who farms just south of Versailles, received the Ripley County Soil and Water Conservation Farmer of the Year award Thursday at the annual meeting at South Ripley Elementary School. He’s vocal about the best practice of no-till and cover crops, and agriculture in general. Benham, who graduated from South Ripley in 1969 and took over 2300 acres of the family farm, has been featured on television news talk shows such as “20/20” and for articles in the Wall Street Journal discussing farm related issues.

About 200 people attended the annual awards dinner to honor him and several other award recipients, but also to elect two people to the soil and water conservation board. Brian Evans and Jeremy Dixon were elected as board supervisors, a three year term. They join Danny Geisler, Gary Back, Jeremy Dixon, Robert Mulford and Jeff Meinders. Meinders has been president of the state board for two years, and he shared some of their efforts and activities of the year. Kim Jolly, SWCD district coordinator, facilitated the awards meeting. Awards were handed out after the catered dinner and after the guest speaker Charlie Adams’ entertaining presentation. Adams, a retired broadcaster from the South Bend area, gave a video presentation about the life lessons learned when the 1980 US Hockey team won the Olympics. It was dubbed the “Miracle on Ice” and many recognize it as a defining moment for the U.S.

James Benham
In announcing the nomination, daughter Kim Jolly said Benham never intended to become a full-time farmer—he preferred fishing!---but started with one acre of tobacco then went to 70 acres of tobacco to a large grain operation. He took over the family farm in the small town of Benham and with the help of his son in law, Brian Evans, and farms 2,300 acres. Of this ground Jim uses no-till on 100%, has 2 acres of CRP enrolled waterways along with non CRP waterways and incorporates 500 acres of cover crops. He began to practice no-till with his father approximately 40 years ago and has never looked back. 

James Benham
WALL STREET JOURNAL PHOTO

James Benham was named Conservation Farmer of the Year.


When asked why he placed conservation practices on the land he replied, “When I was young, Purdue came out with an article that said the only use for soil was to hold the crop up and commercial fertilizers will do the rest, we now know that isn’t the case.”  He also went on to add, “We have to go back to Mother Nature for help.” 

Benham elaborated on his view of cover crops by adding “It’s the lowest risk for the highest reward, but isn’t instantaneous.”  Cover crops are not necessarily a new thing. He can recall his “great-grandfather planting soybeans only to plow them under for fertilizer.”

He travels to DC often to lobby for farmers to legislators. Jim is currently the President of the Indiana Farmers Union and also sits on the National Farmers Union & their Executive Board, the Indiana Ag Council for Humane Society, and has been involved with Indiana Tobacco Growers Association. Locally, he has sat on boards such as the South Ripley School board and Farm Bureau. Jim resides on the same family farm in Benham with his wife Donetta.  They have three daughters and six grandchildren. 

The Mulfords

The other award Thursday was given to a Versailles doctor and his wife who have converted 400 acres into a wildlife sanctuary and hub for conservation education. Dr. Bob Mulford, who retired this year from his family practice of 40 years and wife Ellen who taught first graders for 45 years, received the Champions of Wildlife award. They were nominated by Susan Knowles, wildlife biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife and Natural Resources Conservation Service. She gave the history of the Mulford’s farm and habitat restoration efforts and shared their vision of the property.

Bob and Ellen Mulford
MARY MATTINGLY PHOTO
Left, Susan Knowles, Dr. Robert Mulford and wife Ellen, and James Benham received awards at the annual Ripley County Soil and Conservation awards dinner.


In 2010 Bob went to the NRCS/SWCD office inquiring about programs available to place on row crop acres. The Mulfords wanted to place all 369 acres in programs for wildlife. The transformation from the row crop system to habitat has improved not only the soil, water and air quality but has allowed many diverse species of wildlife to return to the area. Now they have grasslands and wetlands full of meadowlarks, bobwhite quail, sedge wrens, insects, toads, tree frogs, shorebirds and waterfowl. Excluding the home, the entire homestead is enrolled in CRP, SAFE or classified wildlife habitat. They call this restored land “Capability Farm.”

The natural resources have improved the quality of educational opportunities to the community. The couple welcome anyone that would like to explore their property including wildlife researchers. South Ripley students were able to witness the life cycle of a Monarch butterfly, and field days have been held on the farm for many kindergarten and first graders. The outdoor lab and educational plot next to the farm and west of the Ripley County Soil and Water Office is owned by the Mulfords but has been loaned to the office for many years. Signs are posted explaining about the wetlands, prairies and forests and a limestone path has been laid to enjoy. At least half a dozen landowners have done habitat restoration projects on their land as a direct result of time spent at the Mulfords. “They are truly friends and partners of conservation efforts and Champions for Wildlife,” Knowles said.

Special Recognition

The other award of the evening, the Ripley County Special Recognition, went to Knowles herself, much to her surprise. Tim Schwipps, NRCS district conservationist, noted the wildlife award highlights the partnership that exists.  “For example, when a landowner calls the office and inquires about wildlife habitat, we always go through a series of questions then schedule a field visit.”

For the field visit schedules are coordinated with Chris Grauel, Indiana DNR Wildlife Biologist and Knowles the US Fish & Wildlife, Wildlife Biologist.  “This is truly a unique partnership when you think about it with federal, state and local government officials working together to assist a landowner…We can piece the different programs together to help landowners with their goals.  The Special Recognition award recognizes this person’s passion for helping people,” he said, and presented Knowles with the plaque.

River Friendly Farmer

Dennis Belter received the Ripley County River Friendly Farmer; however, he was unable to attend the awards dinner.  He had received the award from the Indiana Association of Soil & Water Conservation Districts in August. This is given to farmers from each county who practice conservation that directly line a water body, in turn helping that water body stay clean. 


Pick up this week's edition of The Versailles Republican for the stories below and more local news. Subscribe by clicking the subscribe link or call 812-689-6364.

• Kitchen Make-Over Challenge (week 2) sponsored by Margaret Mary Health (section B, page 3)
• County to start 911 texting (front page)
• Jury hearing in molestation case (front page)
• School news: Job shadowing, Career and Talent Expo (section B, front page)
• Coming Events (section B, page 4)
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