When my cellphone rings during a meeting, I hit “end.” One afternoon just before Christmas, the caller was persistent. Finally, the meeting ended, and I took the call the next time. It wasn’t a message I expected or wanted to hear. Marshall Alford, Dearborn County, Ind., a longtime no-till farmer and cover cropper, had died unexpectedly.
Marshall and I go way back. I remember visiting his farm not long after I started writing for Indiana Prairie Farmer. He was no-tilling on his rolling soils long before no-till was accepted. He didn’t have the newest equipment, and it wasn’t the “prettiest farm in the country,” but he was as genuine and congenial as anyone I ever met.
We talked no-till and soil conservation for an entire afternoon, standing in his wooden, drafty barn on a chilly afternoon. I remember leaving his farm with a warm feeling; here’s someone who believes in soil conservation and, more importantly, just genuinely likes people.
I saw Marshall many times, often at a no-till breakfast or a soil and water conservation meeting. He was always the same — smiling, with his hand out to welcome me. He was always willing to talk, no matter what crop prices were, how much it had rained the night before or how dry it was.
Others remember Marshall Alford
“He was just a good man,” says Dave Nanda, an independent crop consultant based in Indianapolis. “Whenever I visited, he was always friendly and smiling. And I always learned something.”
Nanda worked with Marshall on seed selection. They often wound up talking about no-till and cover crops, he recalls. “He seemed to really have it figured out, and his crops reflected it,” Nanda says. “We learned together every time another season came around.”
Lisa Holscher also knew Marshall. She’s director of the Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative. “He was a very sweet man, and I would always try to block out an hour when I called him,” she says. “There were always stories to share, interesting articles and research he was digging into. He was one of the few farmers I could call to talk about farming in the ’50s. It was a lot like talking to my own father or my uncles. He was just real. I’m lucky to have known him.”
Vickie Smith knew Marshall well. She works as an environmental technician with the Dearborn County Soil and Water Conservation District. Marshall was a district supervisor for over 27 years. “As a SWCD supervisor, he was always concerned for the staff,” she says. “He would call during bad weather to see if we made it in, or just call to see how we were doing. He gave me a lot of good advice over the years, from cover crops, conservation, farming and more.
“He was such a caring and passionate person. Besides his devotion and his love for his wife, farming and conservation fell right behind her.”
Marshall Alford, 72, Moores Hill, is survived by his loving wife, Darla. The Indiana soil conservation movement has lost a great supporter. Anyone who knew him, including myself, lost a true friend.
Fortunately, his legacy lives on. Anytime you see rolling hills covered with no-till and cover crops, think of Marshall. Anytime you see soil washing across a road, stop and tell someone about no-till, and do it with a smile. Marshall would be proud!
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