In a difficult year for optimism, Kansas Department of Agriculture unveiled Kansas Ag Heroes — a new award program to celebrate businesses, first responders and farmers who made a positive impact.
One Welda area farmer and first responder was named a winner in the program’s inaugural year. As well as producing corn, soybeans, wheat and hay on his southern Anderson County farm, Randy Bunnel maintains a 75-head cow-calf operation, serves on the 4-Rivers Electric Cooperative and count lessFarm Bureau boards and as Welda’s volunteer fire chief. Bunnel is the kind of quiet, persistent heroism that permeates the fabric of rural Kansas.
Identify a need. Step in. Repeat.
In a story similar to many of those throughout Anderson County, Bunnel, a third generation farmer, started to farm alongside his dad in 1979 and then added a dairy in partnership with his brother in 1984. By 1998, it was time for Bunnel to take over from his father full time, exit the dairy business and start his own commercial cow-calf operation.
“I started no-tilling around 2000, not long after I took over from my dad,” Bunnel said. “I would say we didn’t move completely away from tillage until around 12 years ago, but now we are a full no-till operation.”
Alongside his no-till practices, Bunnel uses a combination of cover crops and grazing to make the most of the land he farms. And, after years of dedicated effort to learning and applying soil health practices, he is beginning to see results.
“In my opinion, I’ve started to see the effects on my soybean yields,” Bunnel said. “On corn, it’s more difficult to judge because planting corn early here and getting good emergence is tougher with no-till.”
2020 has been a challenging year for farmers across the state, not only because of health concerns and protective measures, but mostly due to dry weather during key stages of crop development.
“It was very dry in May and then we only had a few rains in July, none of which were big enough to put any moisture in the sub-soil,” Bunnel said. “When the rain shut off completely in August it was very hard on both corn and soybeans.”
Surprisingly, Bunnel’s summer hay season turned out more productive than expected despite the lack of rain. And, it’s a good thing, Bunnel’s season went fairly seamlessly, because local baler fires add an additional layer of complication to his second job.
“I’ve been with the Anderson County fire department just shy of 20 years, and I’ve been the fire chief at Welda the last six,” Bunnel said. “I was asked to be involved by someone who was the assistant fire chief at the time and at the time they were down to very few members, so few that sometimes they couldn’t make a call because they had no one to respond.”
Bunnel said his wife, Betsey, who also nominated him for the award, questioned him at the time about his motivation for getting involved in the department. His answer, one that has landed him in many positions of leadership throughout his community, was “somebody’s got to do it.”
And, while that mentality jumpstarted Bunnel’s involvement, his actual commitment to the role went above and beyond from taking first responder classes to becoming a licensed emergency medical technician.
Today, he responds to mostly medical calls from county residents as well as farm related incidents and the occasional structure fire. According to Bunnel’s nomination, “Randy would never say he was a hero, but many people have appreciated his calm presence in emergency situations. A neighbor stated, ‘If I need to call 911, I want Randy there!’”
It’s easy to see Bunnel’s motivation in his actions — from serving on the Farm Bureau board to answering distress calls to investing in the health of the soil — everything is aimed at making areas within his influence a better place to live.