Preserving farmland is one of his passions

John Koons

John Koons

April 29, 2007|by DON AINES

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - On an early spring day, the fields surrounding the home of John Koons are a sward of Kelly green, not the rows of tawny corn stubble that cover many fields before planting.

It is rye grass, planted as winter cover, which gives the fields such vibrant color, even on a gray, misty afternoon. The grass also holds the soil in winter, he said, keeping it from blowing away or washing out with a hard rain or melting snow.

For more than half a century, Koons and his wife, Doris, have farmed this land.

For the past four decades, Koons has been spreading the word about the practical virtues of no-till farming, soil conservation and, more recently, farmland preservation.

"I hate to see this good farmland get cut up into houses," Koons said recently. "I'd hate to see the time we'd have to go to Lancaster County to see a good farm."


That will not happen to this farm any time soon. His was the first farm preserved by the Franklin County Agricultural Land Preservation Board in the early 1990s.

Since that time, more than 10,000 acres of prime county farmland have been placed in the program, under which farmers sell the development rights to their land to the county and state so that it will remain in agriculture for perpetuity.

Koons serves on the board that ranks which farms should be preserved, based on the quality of soil, the threat of development and other factors.

He also was an early convert to no-till farming, using planting machines rather than disc plows for his corn crop, something he has been doing since 1969.

"It saves a lot of fuel and it saves a lot of time," Koons said. It is also another way to anchor quality soil.

"I didn't do these things to get the biggest crop. I did it to save and build the soil," said Koons. Through Pennsylvania State University and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Koons has helped spread his knowledge of what he has learned about no-till and improving soils. He has done some of the same work, as a member of the state Corn Board in the 1990s, to get the word out around Pennsylvania and to other states.

"They'd take me along to meetings," he said modestly.

From his home - he wasted no acreage here, having built it on a rock outcrop - Koons points to a field in the distance. He has been working to improve it over the years, increasing its organic matter content from a weak 2.8 percent to a robust 6.6 percent.

"They say you can't plant a field in corn year after year," he said. "We've planted corn there 38 of the last 43 years and it's still one of our best fields."


Name: John Koons

Hometown: Waynesboro, Pa.

Occupation: Farmer

What was your proudest moment?: Watching our five children grow.

Whom do you most admire and why?: "My wife and family. I think they should be first in everybody's life."

What is the best piece of advice you ever received and who gave it to you?: "If you take care of the soil, it will take care of you."

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