Farm Talk

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February 19, 2013

Warnke Farm receives award for environmental excellence

Parsons, Kansas — Sustainable.

That’s the word David and Jo Warnke work tirelessly to uphold at Warnke Farm in Stover, Mo.

“It should be everyone's mission to want to leave the Earth in better shape than it was when we got here,” David Warnke says.

The Warnkes’ hard work has not gone unnoticed. They were recently one of six families in the United States to receive the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association’s Family Farm Environmental Excellence Award during the International Poultry Expo in Atlanta, Georgia.

“Honored doesn't even begin to describe it,” says David who raises cattle, corn, soybeans and hay as well as turkeys.

“We're still on cloud nine,” Jo adds.

Beginning his farming career as a teenager with 15 acres of his own, David has spent his life building and expanding his farm. In 1968, he entered the turkey business by growing breeder hens and toms on range for Ralston Purina.

Throughout the next eight years he continued to expand his turkey operation as well as gathering eggs, but the long days and dusty working conditions began to wear on him.

“You always had to be in the houses collecting eggs and then my lungs began to bleed from all the dust,” he says. “And that scared me, I knew it was time to do something different.”

In 1978, he built a brooder house and switched to growing turkeys independently for Nutrena, Swift and Louis Rich in the former layer house. During the mid-1980s, David became a contract grower for Cargill, raising between eight to nine thousand per flock.

In 1994, David increased his operation by retrofitting the original houses and building a 50’ x 710’ computerized grow-out house which allowed him to produce four 19,000 hen flocks per year.

“We were the first in the area to install a computer system for our house,” David explains. “At first no one really knew what to think about that.”

He believes the best way to survive in business is to always try to be on the front edge. In order to meet consumer demand, producers have to be open to change, he continues.

On the evening of November 30, 2006, sleet and freezing rain began to fall.

“I checked the three-week old poults in the brooder house at 11 p.m. At that time there was only one inch of accumulation,” David says. “At 2 a.m. we were both awakened by the sound of steel trusses snapping.”

The weight of the snow and ice had collapsed the 20,000 square feet brooder house.

With a glass half-full attitude, David used the calamity to rebuild the brooder house more efficiently than before.

Taking advice from University of Missouri engineers, he removed all the old footing, replaced it, and expanded the house.

Along with infrared tube heaters and spray-foam insulation on the interior walls, two inches of insulation were added along the exterior of the sidewall.

According the David, insulating the concrete sidewalls drastically reduced the house’s fuel consumption.

With the innovations to the brooder house, the outside walls are the same temperature as the rest of the house. This means we no longer have to set up a separator between the turkeys and the wall, which ultimately gives them more room in the house,” he explains.

Along with their houses, the Warnkes apply efficiency to every part of their operation.

“We’ve renovated our fields to accommodate an intensive grazing system for our cow-calf operation,” Jo explains.

Because of their farm’s location, they faced a lofty price to provide water to 120 cow/calf pairs that did not have access to a well or electricity. David worked with his local National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office to obtain a green energy grant.

With the grant he was able to install a solar powered watering system. This system holds 6,000 gallons of water and feeds into 10 concrete freeze-proof waterers across over two miles of water lines.

“So many people said a solar water cattle operation wouldn’t work,” David said, “but we were trying to look into the future. Electric rates aren’t going to go down and if you do it right the first time it is much more cost effective.”

David’s most noteworthy innovation is the Warnkez Brooder Guard Planter, which he patented in 2005. Previously, setting up the brooder guard was time-consuming and meticulous and was becoming more difficult the older he became.

To lessen his load, and grant him the ability to continue to raise turkeys, his invention installs brooder guard into the litter without disturbing the rice hulls on bottom or the wood shavings on top.

“It takes setting up the straight run of the brooder guard from an all-day job to a 30-minute task,” David states.

As with any poultry operation, litter management plays a large role. Warnke Farm composts their litter with dead birds in a compost building/stack shed where it is shielded from precipitation.

Firm believers in the fertilization powers of poultry litter, the Warnkes spread it on their own fields as well as selling it by the ton.

“We always have a litter analysis done. MU Extension is a really good resource for that,” David says. “I think it’s in the best interest of anyone who buys litter to have an analysis.”

Being advocates of sustainability and applying the best management practices available, receiving the Family Farm Environmental Excellence Award and having the opportunity to attend the International Poultry Expo, gave Warnke Farm more ideas to apply to their own operation.

“We came to learn,” Jo says. “We were impressed with the summits and exhibits, it was neat to see so many different ways to think outside the box.”

Applicants for the excellence award were rated in several categories, including: dry litter or liquid manure management, nutrient management planning, community involvement, wildlife enhancement techniques, and participation in education or outreach programs.

Applications were reviewed and farm visits conducted by a team of environmental professionals from universities, regulatory agencies and state trade associations in selecting a national winner from each of the six regions.

For David, who says the poultry expo was something he had always wanted to attend, the experience did not disappoint.

“I wish every grower could experience the expo,” he says. “It makes you proud to be in agriculture.”

The Warnkes’ passion for agriculture extends well beyond their own operation.

“As a farmer you aren’t just doing this for yourself, you are doing your part to feed the world. You have to love what you do,” David concludes. £

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