As a high school ag teacher, Fred Walter spent 35 years teaching conservation principles to his students.
Meanwhile, on his own family farm, he put those conservation principles into practice. “I always tried to use my farm as a teaching tool for my students,” he explains. “If I teach it, I ought to apply it.”
Since his retirement from teaching 10 years ago, Fred has continued his conservation efforts on his Hocking County farm. Because of those efforts, he and his family are being recognized as 2019 Ohio Conservation Farm Family Award recipients. Fred and his wife, Kristy, farm 335 acres, with 203 acres managed as woodland. The farm also includes grasslands used for pasture, hay production, wildlife food plots and pollinator habitat. He maintains a cow-calf herd of eight to 10 registered Angus cows as well.
Fred grew up on his parents’ dairy farm, and he bought nearby land in 1992. Eventually he added a 50-acre parcel that connected the farms. He and Kristy also joined with his son Freddie to buy part of his parents’ land, and they manage it together.
Some of the Walters’ land has been leased out and used for row crops over the years. However, the hilly terrain makes it best-suited for forest or permanent grass cover, Fred explains. Even with sod waterways and conservation tillage, corn and soybean production left the soil vulnerable to erosion.
“I was seeing it in the streams more than I was happy with,” he recalls. He established grass cover on the land and currently has it enrolled in the Grasslands Conservation Reserve Program. “My goal for the property is to keep it in grass and minimize soil erosion and protect it,” he explains.
The CRP Grasslands allows producers to manage land as pasture or produce hay, while also promoting biological diversity and wildlife habitat with grass cover. “We’re happy that it’s back in grass; and we’re in a program where if we want to make hay, we can,” he adds. “It just gives us more options.”
For his forested land, Fred is working on a long-term goal of producing timber. “My ultimate goal is to produce high-quality timber for future sale,” he explains. “But I also want to be able to enjoy it for recreation, provide wildlife habitat and protect water quality.”
The land the Walters are currently developing as a tree farm was previously clear-cut in the 1990s. “It looked like they had dropped a bomb on this place,” Fred recalls. Within the first few years, thorns and briar bushes took root as pioneer species and covered the area, but within 10 years, trees started to fill in. Now, after 25 years or so, the trees have grown enough that a forest understory is emerging, he points out. “It’s becoming a young woods.”
The new trees should be ready for another harvest in another 20 or 30 years, Fred estimates. “I’m not going to see any benefit from that,” he notes. “Most of the work we’re doing now will benefit the future.”
To pass the benefits to the three children, Fred has set his land up in a trust that will give each one a parcel of his or her own and reserve the center section of the farm in a family trust. “We tried to be as proactive as we could to protect the property,” he says.
Timber is a renewable resource; and a timber harvest, if managed properly, won’t affect water quality, Fred notes. Woodlands can be managed to regenerate after a selective harvest and continue to provide wildlife habitat. “It’s a multiuse approach to the land,” he explains.
Fred promotes growth of crop trees such as cherry, walnut, poplar and red and white oak by using crop tree release management. First, he identifies and marks trees he wants to encourage. Then, other trees, grapevines or other plants that are competing with those trees for nutrients or sunlight are removed. “You can get one-and-a-half to two times the growth,” he explains.
The Walters’ forest management also includes removal of invasive species, such as Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus). To improve access for management and recreation, Fred maintains a system of mowed trails through the woods. “It gives us access to totally enjoy the property,” he explains. He waits until late in the summer to mow the trails. “By then, all the nesting is over, and the pollinators have taken full advantage of it.”
In addition to the forests and grasslands, the Walters have planted pollinator plots and wildlife food plots. The plots help support deer, turkeys and other wildlife on the farm. The wildlife provides a secondary income for Fred’s son Freddie, who offers bow hunting on the farm through an outfitting business he runs with a partner.
Fred’s off-farm career focused on teaching young people about conservation, and he coached multiple FFA teams to state and national championships in soils, forestry, wildlife management, nature interpretation and Envirothon academic competitions. The importance of conservation education is something he continues to advocate. “Always educate our youth on the importance of good stewardship of our natural resources. Otherwise, we have little hope for their sustainability for future generations,” he stresses.
These days though, Fred’s educational efforts are centered on his family, particularly his two grandsons, 6-year-old Kellen and 4-year-old Greyson. They live on land adjoining his farm and are already becoming young conservationists, eagerly telling him about things they see in the woods, he says. “One of the things that brings me the most joy is seeing the appreciation grow in my grandchildren.”
The Walter family
The family. Retired ag teacher Fred Walter farms with his wife, Kristy, who is an administrator with the Logan-Hocking School District. In addition to his own land, he shares ownership of additional adjoining ground with his older son, Freddie, a supervisor with AEP. Fred’s daughter, Jessica Bazell, is a high school biology teacher who lives next to the family farm with her husband, Evan, and their two sons, Kellen, 6, and Greyson, 4. Fred and Kristy’s younger son, Chase, is studying finance at Ohio University.
The farm. The Walter farm consists of 335 acres in Hocking County, Ohio, with 203 acres of managed woodland. The farm also includes grasslands and pollinator habitat in the Conservation Reserve Program Grasslands, plus land used for hay production and pasture for a 10-cow registered Angus cow-calf herd.
Nominator. Jason Allison, Hocking Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor
Outreach. During his career as a high school agriculture teacher, Fred Walter repeatedly used his farm for teaching students, training FFA teams and hosting FFA competitions. The farm has hosted tours for the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission and Hocking County elected officials. Fred has also worked on joint programs at the farm with Ohio State University Extension, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Farm Services Agency, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Hocking Soil and Water Conservation District and the Cattleman’s Association.
Leadership. Fred serves on the local FSA County Committee, Hocking County OSU Extension Advisory Committee and the Old Straitsville/Burr Oak Rural H2O Association. He is a member of the FFA Alumni, Ebenezer Baptist Church, the Farm Bureau, the Cattleman’s Association, the American Tree Farm System and the Angus Association. He is currently running for the Hocking Soil and Water Conservation District board.
Keck writes from Raymond, Ohio.