Congratulations - Ralph and Connie Rice, Riceland Acres

Ashtabula SWCD 2021 Cooperator of the Year

 

 

Ralph and Connie Rice, Riceland Meadows have been named the 2021 Ashtabula SWCD Conservationist of the Year.  Ralph and Connie reside in Jefferson Township where they own 73 acres where a wide variety of animals, crops and woodland products are produced.

Though the Rice’s came from different backgrounds they embarked on their journey together in 1992. They purchased 9 acres of land from Wayne and Betty Bagley with the first option to purchase the balance of the farm.  Their goal for the farm was to always have a diversified income stream and the farm had to pay for itself.  Even though Ralph and Connie worked off the farm they didn’t want to support the farm with their full time jobs.

“On day one we recognized we had a farm that needed a lot of attention which step one was to improve the poor soil health.”  Though small in numbers they had beef, pork and draft horses.  They kept adding cattle for manure that could be composted and used to improve the soil fertility. Even though they were utilizing the entire farm 1992, eventually they were able to purchase the balance of the farm in 1996.

Ralph was working at SCM and Connie was going to nursing school, they farmed the land like it was big garden. The grain/hay was used to feed the beef, pigs and Percheron horses. Ralph owned a tractor and would use it when crunched for time, while the balance of the farming was done with the Percheron draft horses.

In 1996 Ralph worked with State Forester Mark Popichak to develop a woodland management plan for the wooded acres.  The plan called for crop tree release, noncommercial thinning and then eventually selective harvest.  Over the years Ralph has utilized crop tree release and noncommercial thinning techniques to improve the woodland quality and keep the fire going in the sugar house when making maple syrup.  Ralph has been planting about 50 saplings each year and is starting to see the fruits of his labor.  He plants Sugar Maple and Red Oak on the drier ground and swamp white oak on the wetter soils.  That plan, though 25 years old is still applicable today. 

In 1998, a Rose Run Well was drilled on the property.  He utilized the desire of the well company to drill to apply conservation to the ground.  The agreement included the company hyro-axing approximately 6 acres of multiflora rose which is now used for pasture along with specifying the exact pipeline path through the woodlands to minimize the impact.

In 2000, the Rice’s built their home and many of the buildings that exist today.  “I designed the layout of the home/buildings with horse drawn travel patterns in mind”.  He also designed the home so he could take advantage of roof runoff to supplement the pond which he uses to water the livestock throughout the 14 paddocks that are now established.

With a desire for woodland management and protecting the Mill Creek frontage, Ralph and Connie utilized two federal programs, WRP and EQIP in 2003.  The WRP easement program now permanently protects approximately 10 acres of land along Mill Creek. The EQIP program enabled the Rice’s to better manage the animal waste (dry stack) along with a heavy use pad, fencing and hydrants to the 14 pastures.

Ralph utilizes a 7 year rotation: Corn, oats or sudan grass, spelts then reseed back to hay for 2 years of the rotation. Then 1-2 years of pasture with a frost seeding of a legume to get some free nitrogen when the field goes back to corn.  He accomplished most of this with the power of horses but when working full time would use a tractor for some of the operation. Today, since he retired from Cristal, the farm is under horse power except for disking and baling hay.  “Using horses for cutting and tethering is a lot of work and baling soon after is too much for them in a short time”.

 

Staying with the theory of diversified income stream, sheep were added in 2000 to initially help with cleaning up the fence rows and they are light on the land.  But the sheep herd grew along with the beef and pigs.  “We raise approximately 25-35 pigs, approximately 8 beef /yr and now Suffolk horses. We sold the sheep herd to purchase the Suffolk horses and now raise them to sell.  The Suffolk horse is the only draft horse that was bred for farm work.  The rest of the draft horses were bred for war. This horse is very intelligent, calm and great for farm work.”

The commitment Rice’s have to the land goes far beyond their farm.  Ralph maintains a blog about the farm, is an author of two books “A Soldier’s Story” and “Cultivating Memories”.  He and Connie have hosted Ashtabula County Youth and Adult Leadership Classes for over 10 years.  They have hosted many school aged children from different school districts and home school groups throughout the county.  Ralph is on the board for the A-Tech Horticulture program and teaches a couple times a year. The Rice’s are proud parents of 7 children and 10 grandchildren.

Spend any time talking with Ralph and Connie about their way of life and there is always a smile and a positive upbeat attitude.  They are true examples of living off of and with the land.  Ralph and Connie, congratulations and thank you for your stewardship!

 

 

2019 Winner

2018 Winner

2017 Winner

back to home