By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service has honored a Big Sandy farmer for his efforts in conservation.
Bob Boettcher, who operates a certified organic farm west of Big Sandy with his wife, Ann, and son, Earl, shared the 2003 Excellence in Conservation Award with Bernard Sweeney, president and senior research scientist at the Stroud Water Research Center in Pennsylvania and adjunct professor of biology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. The awards were presented Friday at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Boettcher could not be reached for comment his morning. His wife said he was headed to Great Falls and then Canada for more meetings related to conservation and farming.
Tasha Gibby of the NRCS said Boettcher was extremely qualified for the award.
"He has just had a great history of conservation on his lands," she said.
Gibby said Boettcher was nominated by an NRCS employee in Hill County who has worked with him on conservation issues. The state NRCS office selected his application to forward to the regional level, where it was selected to be reviewed on the national level.
NRCS initiated the award last year to recognize the voluntary contributions of nongovernmental individuals and groups to conservation efforts, the service said in a press release.
Boettcher's conservatism goes far beyond the boundaries of his farm. He has been active in many organizations, including the Big Sandy Conservation District, the NRCS State Technical Committee and the Western Sustainable Agriculture Working Group. He has served as the delegate to Taiwan for the Western United States Trade Association, where he promoted Montana organic farm products.
Boettcher also helped organize return trips, where Taiwanese delegates came to Montana to tour agricultural operations, and has hosted agriculturalists from Canada, and presented a workshop to a group of visitors from China.
Boettcher is a member of the Montana Organic Commodity Certification Council, which helped create Montana's own standards for certification.
Boettcher received another national award last year. The National Soil and Water Conservation Society awarded him a national honor for his work on conservation. The state chapter of the society nominated him for that honor because of his work helping to organize and host a sustainable agriculture tour in 2001.
He began using organic methods when he planted his first sunflower crop in 1978, and his farm, Rob-An Farms Inc., was certified 100 percent organic in 1992.
Boettcher was a charter member of the North Central Montana Chapter of the Organic Crop Improvement Association, a group that promotes and polices organic farming operations. That chapter, founded about 25 years ago, has grown to more than 25 members, including farmers from across the Canadian border.
The chapter grew so quickly, Boettcher said last fall, that he and other members split off to form a new chapter based in Big Sandy. It also grew to more than 25 members.
The benefits of organic farming are many, Boettcher has said. One is simply stopping the use of chemical pesticides and the health dangers that may come with it.
Another benefit is the higher prices for some crops harvested on an organic operation.
While alternative crops can take a much larger investment than spring wheat or winter wheat, the return is also higher, Boettcher said.
The benefit to the land is another advantage of organic farming, Boettcher said. Timing the planting and adjusting the spaces between rows of the crop have allowed him to keep weeds and pests out of his crops without using chemicals, and crop rotation has helped revitalize the soil without using fertilizers, he said.
The practice of leaving crop residue in the soil, and reducing tillage when planting keeps the soil healthier and also reduces erosion and loss of moisture, Boettcher added.