BROOKVILLE – Lee Orschell doesn’t mind when raindrops keep falling on his head. The Brookville farmer has lessened erosion and muddy farm roads by installing WASCOBs – water and sediment control basins – between slopes to slow down the water.

Orschell was named one of four Master Farm Conservationists of the Year in Indiana when five types of statewide agricultural conservation awards were presented Jan. 18 at the downtown Indianapolis Marriott during the 63rd annual Conference of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

Wife Carolyn described the event: “They fed us and gave us a plaque and took our picture” after Orschell’s accomplishments were profiled.

“These are my home farms where I was raised,” says the 69-year-old, gesturing to 260 acres father Leo purchased after World War I and – a half mile west on U.S. 52 – 120 more. The land “gets me more work every year,” reports Orschell, who grows corn, soybeans and hay and is fattening up 25 head of crossbred cattle for slaughter. Son Greg Orschell, a Visteon Systems engineer who lives up the road, helps his dad on the farm. “We work together with my tools.”

Orschell also has a 228-acre corn-and-bean custom farm operation in Rush County. “I actually do the farming. I pay ... (a helper) to do the work with his machinery.”

The Brookville Knights of Columbus, Eagles and Farm Bureau member built his WASCOBs, which he calls dry dams, back in the 1970s. He explains, “It’s a water control project to eliminate a gully.” Bulldozing leads to a dam. A pipe lets water flow underground into a tile instead of remaining on the pasture’s surface.

The U.S. Army veteran, who was stationed in Germany in 1957-58, learned about conservation in high school vocational education courses and when he served as Franklin County Soil and Water Conservation District president.

These are other tactics that earned him the award and an article in the January issue of Indiana Prairie Farmer:

• Orschell considers his biggest conservation success “making the hills more productive” by removing blackberry plants, thistles and thorns and reseeding them with better grasses. “It’s a cattle farm. It gives you incentive to keep the brush off of it” for grazing. “The good stuff diminishes,” he admits. “Alfalfas only last four to five years.”

• Managing springs is another bright idea. “Here we’re blessed with a lot of naturally occurring springs. There’s some maintenance to them.” Instead of having water run out of a spring across a road, freezing it, a pipe inserted underground, running downhill, ends at a livestock water tank. “They just run forever. You don’t need a pump.”

• On the rolling terrain, Orschell built fences to handle the livestock better. A central corridor has gates leading to various fields.

• “We do some no-till.” While that method decreases erosion, chemicals have to be substituted to keep weeds at bay. “It’s the lesser of two evils.” According to the seed corn salesman who worked for Pioneer for 27 years and has 10 years in with DeKalb, no-till requires “higher management, especially if you’ve not done it all your life.”

When asked if there have been any failures among his conservation experiments, Orschell replied, “I’d say it’s all worked.”

Have the friendly farmer’s practices increased his yields? “Yes.” He explains changing grass varieties produces hay almost year-round instead of just during one season.

Orschell has more conservation plans, “but I don’t have the time to do them,” he reports. “Crops keep me too busy.” He has two hectic periods, planting between March and the Fourth of July and harvesting from September through Thanksgiving.

During late summer’s lull, he and Carolyn like to travel. For instance, in 2004 they journeyed to Holland to watch daughter Christie Oschell, Indianapolis, race a marathon.

For fun, “hayrides are our specialty” at family reunions. The clan, which also includes son Jeff Orschell and Sheri Seeley, Cincinnati, and three grandchildren, rides to the top of the farm where there’s a magnificent vista of Franklin County pvalleys. The St. Michael Catholic Church member also enjoys tinkering in his shop, “rebuilding and repairing machinery to make it more farmer friendly.”

When asked about the rewards of this career, the master farm conservationist smiles and turns to his wife. “What do you think?” Carolyn Orschell replies, “You evidently like it.”

Lee Orschell likes “the satisfaction of growing a crop.” He points out, “But when you have a crop failure, you have to take the disappointments, too. You are your own boss, but sometimes he’s pretty tough on you.”

Although it doesn’t happen very often, farmers do have the freedom to take a day off. That’s when Orschell goes to farm shows – to learn even more.

Debbie Blank can be contacted at (812) 934-4343, Ext. 113.


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