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Young Farmer Wins Conservation Award

Twenty-one-year-old Devin Aherin of Dieterich earned the Effingham County Soil and Water Conservation District’s Conservationist of the Year honor last year.

Aherin is a sixth-generation farmer whose conservation efforts were fostered from his parents, Phil and Diane. Aherin said his Dad dabbled in conservation farming but not to the scale Aherin has taken the farm today.

“In the last 10 years, we’ve really moved to the conservation-type tillage. In the last four (years), we’ve really kind of done the no-till and cover crops. We’ve minimized erosion almost to nothing,” Aherin said.

No-till, minimum-till and cover crops are the biggest conservation processes on Aherin’s farm. Aherin said his entire 1,500-acre farm is minimum till, which means the soil often goes undisturbed in order to maintain its moisture and preserve nutrients.

Aherin said his main focus is increasing the quality of the soil through conservation.

“Our short-term goal was to decrease erosion. The long-term goal we’ve come up with is increasing organic matter and increasing the richness of the soil,” Aherin said.

The goal of his conservation farming techniques was not necessarily to increase yield but to bring something more permanent to his farm. Aherin said his long-term goals are slowly being reached, starting with his crops fairing drier conditions better than ever.

Minimum-till farming has not only enriched the soil, but also has saved Aherin money.

“It’s cheaper to do less tillage. We don’t have to pull those big tractors across the field much,” Aherin said. “The crops were responding to less and less tillage, so the less money we could spend on fuel is kind of how we got into it.”

Aherin said cover crops have significantly aided his operation, too. He has tried nearly 10 different cover crop species, and he mostly relies on cereal rye, oats, tillage radish, turnips and balansa clover.

Cover crops are important because when there is nothing growing in the field in the fall or spring months, Aherin said having something alive in the soil helps to keep in nutrients.

Aherin’s interest in cover crops took off when he joined the Effingham County CEO program his senior year in high school. While in the program, Aherin created Aherin Seed, a business focused on cover crops and small-seed solutions.

“CEO is kind of the big reason we use cover crops on our farm. (CEO) is probably the best decision I’ve made so far in my life,” Aherin said.

Aherin still operates Aherin Seed while managing his family farm. Currently, Aherin Seed is working with 20 farmers across six area counties, Aherin said.

In addition to the minimum-till farmland and his use of cover crops, Aherin’s farm operation features strips of farmland registered in the Conservation Reserve Program. These strips act as filters to protect the water quality in the soil.

Because of his continued conservation efforts, Aherin said he had hoped he would be chosen as the Conservationist of the Year but thought his age would take him out of the nominee list.

When he received the conservation recognition, Aherin said he was very surprised.

“I’m a fairly young individual, so I didn’t expect it. (I) was kind of honored in a way,” Aherin said. “I think everybody hopes to implement conservation on their farm one way or another, so to be able to be recognized for that is kind of special.”

Aherin’s passion for agriculture has reached into his educational career as well. He has received his associate degree in Agriculture from Lake Land, and he is currently pursuing a Crop Science degree from the University of Illinois in Champaign.

Aherin also participates in area cover crop meetings, where he serves as a member of a farmer panel.

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