The Butler County Conservation District held its 71st Annual Meeting and Dinner Thursday evening in Benton.

Following a welcome and business meeting, those attending enjoyed a meal catered by Oklahoma Boys in Augusta.

The program for the evening was put on by Ross Janssen, chief meteorologist for KWCH Channel 12.

He said growing up on his family farm, he learned weather affects everything and he has always had an interest in it.

He also introduced Millie, the weather dog, saying she first made a random appearance with him on TV on Christmas night 2004. After that, she started making regular appearances and now people always ask about her.

After showing several photos of Millie as she ran about the room, he gave the audience a 10-question weather quiz, then talked about the last storm system, technology and what people can expect coming up with the weather.

Highlights from 2016 included the Dodge City tornado on May 24 and the Chapman tornado on May 25.

There also was the latest tornado outbreak in history in Western Kansas on Nov. 16.

Next, he talked about the differences in color in tornadoes, which is caused by the placement of the sun; tornado size and shape of rope, stove pipe and wedge; and other cloud features of a wall cloud which could form a tornado and shelf cloud which brings strong winds.

He also talked about downburst winds, saying they have 80 to 100 mile per hour winds and talked about hailstones.

Janssen went on to say they still launch weather balloons twice a day at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. in Topeka and Dodge City.

The weather balloon measures temperature, humidity and wind. Then the balloon pops and the equipment parachutes to the ground.

He said he thought it would probably go away some day because each balloon costs $300, but he did not know how it would be replaced.

“The weather balloon data collected is vital to what we do,” he said.

He also looked at future technology for forecasts.

“I think there will come a day when we could evacuate an area that could potentially be hit by a tornado,” he said.

One new thing they have coming this fall is a satellite that gives them photos every 30 seconds and lightning data from the whole globe.

Other topics included El Niño and La Niña, which he said is not a storm and refers to an area of water along the equator.

Janssen also said he thought we would still have some cold weather to get through this winter and that you can’t tie weather to climate change. He said they know the earth is warmer, but not what is causing it.

Next in the program, two awards were presented.

The Kansas Banker’s Association Soil Conservation Award was presented to Sparrowhawk, Inc., owned by Arlyn Entz and Vanessa Bergman in Newton.

Then the Kansas Association of Conservation Districts 2016 Grassland Award was pretend to Connell Farms, LLC, Tim Connell, manager, in El Dorado.

Also recognized were those who are conservation district supervisors, staff and long-time volunteer Juanita Shaw. They also recognized the Benton Busy Bees for helping with the meal.

A final award was given to Sandy Koontz for the lifetime commitment she has made to conservation. She has been with the district for 20 years.

“And most of all, thanks to you who attended tonight,” said Russell Janzen.

2016 Key Banker Award for Soil Conservation - Sparrowhawk, Inc. – Arlyn Entz and Vanessa Bergman

Taking care of the land entrusted to them is not a new concept for Arlyn Entz and Vanessa Bergman who farm, ranch and feed cattle in northwest Butler County. Their operation, Sparrowhawk, Inc., is the winner of the 2016 Butler County Key Banker Award for Soil Conservation.

Arlyn recalls his dad talking about erosion control when he was young. The quarter that Arlyn and Vanessa live on has terraces and structures that his Grandpa Albert installed years ago. He remembers his dad and Grandpa saying the gullies used to be so deep in that field you couldn't drive a tractor through them. He mentioned conservation has always been a topic of conversation in the Entz household. They didn’t just talk about it though. In fact, Grandpa Albert won the Banker’s Award in Butler County in 1964 for conservation work completed and his dad Alden won the Bankers Award in Marion County in 1998. His dad also was honored with a Continuation Award in 2010 from Marion County.

Sparrowhawk covers about 1,500 acres, with a combination of mostly rented and some owned land. This includes about 500 acres of cropland and 1,000 acres of pastureland. Crops grown on the farm include corn, wheat and soybeans.

In 2005, Sparrowhawk was eligible to participate in the Conservation Security Program. Some erosion issues were found. Arlyn installed a crossing using geotextile fabric and large rock to control one of the erosion issues caused by livestock. He also installed several concrete structures.

When their CSP contract expired, Arlyn and Vanessa enrolled in the Conservation Stewardship Program which allowed them to take another step in improving their operation. They have also adopted an Integrated Pest Management Plan (IPM) which guides any spraying activity to make sure spraying is necessary and the only remaining alternative.

For the ranching and cattle feeding operation, they run stocker cattle and buy calves. Arlyn determines the health of his pastures by observing grazing height and he pulls the cattle off depending on weather. He watches for invasive species of brush, trees and the noxious weed Sericea Lespedeza. They are in the process of expanding their feedlot.

In the fall of 2014, they installed solar panels which cover most of the electricity they use on the farm and at the house.

In his spare time, Arlyn volunteers at Offender Victim Ministries by making monthly trips to the Hutchinson Correctional Facility to visit an inmate who doesn't receive any other regular visitations. Before taking over the financial affairs for Sparrowhawk and assisting with the day to day activities, Vanessa worked for the Harvey County Planning, Zoning and Environmental Department.

The 2016 Soil Conservation Award is sponsored by the Kansas Banker’s Association.

2016 Grassland Award - Connell Farms LLC - Tim Connell, Manager

As Tim Connell thumbs through a large file filled with years of spreadsheets summarizing the health of his pastures he knows where he and ranchland manager Clint Showalter will need to focus their work on in the coming year to keep those pastures in good shape.

Each fall, Tim and Clint check the pastures, measure grass height and look for areas where erosion may be a concern, where brush control will be needed or where weeds may need to be sprayed.

Tim’s Grandfather purchased land northeast of El Dorado years ago, got into the oil business and purchased horses. When the oil business slowed he got rid of the horses. After his grandfather passed away, Tim’s father, OJ Connell, Jr., took over the operation of the land and purchased additional acreage in the Chelsea area. Prior to their marriage, OJ, Jr. borrowed money from his bride to be, Mary K. Connell, to buy “distressed cattle.” Mary K. Connell is fond of remembering that the loan was never repaid.

OJ and Mary K. Connell raised Simmental cattle, hogs and Shetland ponies through the years. Much of the land purchased by OJ and Mary K. Connell, except for the house where Tim lives now, was in the area that is now under El Dorado Lake. After the lake condemnation, OJ and Mary K. bought other parcels of land west of El Dorado Lake and near Leon.

Connell Farms LLC consists of about 3,300 acres of rangeland, brome pasture and cropland. Stocker cattle are put on pasture in April and taken off the end of July or early August. They also run a cow/calf operation.

Korte Farms manages the cropland for Connell Farms. Cropland is no-tilled. Tim has incorporated pollinator habitat on some of his cropland to provide native wildflowers for pollinators throughout the growing season. Tim also has included bee hives in his operation.

Tim has used the USDA Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program to cover some of the costs of tree, brush and noxious weed control. Tim has installed grazing exclusion areas so grass can be monitored giving him another tool to use when determining stocking rates for the upcoming grazing season.

Other programs Tim has used include the USDA’s Conservation Security Program (CSP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CStP) and the State Water Resources and Non-Point Source Pollution Control Programs for implementing conservation practices on his land.

Earlier this fall, Connell Farms LLC received the Farm Bureau Natural Resources Award. Tim and his wife Emily are active in many local organizations including the El Dorado Working on Wellness (EWOW) campaign for youth in the community. Emily is the director of El Dorado Main Street and the Flint Hills Map Project. Tim is an attorney with Connell and Connell in El Dorado and on the board of directors of the Ranchland Trust of Kansas.

The 2016 Grassland Award is sponsored by the Kansas Association of Conservation Districts Grasslands Committee and Sharp Brothers Seed Company.