John and Sandy Scherder farm in the Peno Creek watershed. It’s a special place where fresh water pours from natural springs in caves nestled on picturesque bluffs. The Scherders are driven by a passion to ensure their farmland and natural surroundings coexist today, and thrive for future generations.
“In my 20 years in the conservation field, I have not met a producer more dedicated to conservation,” said Chris Williamson of the Missouri Department of Conservation.
John Scherder grew up a farm kid and earned an animal husbandry degree. He returned to his hometown to farm with Sandy’s father. John and Sandy acquired more land after taking over her family’s farm. Today they farm with their daughter, Holly, and son-in-law, Curtis, growing corn, soybeans, wheat and hay, and raising a herd of 225 beef cattle.
The Scherders work with local, state and federal agencies to implement conservation practices that preserve and create wildlife habitat, and promote the soil’s health and productivity while reducing erosion.
One practice that achieves all of these goals is planting cover crops to complement their corn, soybean and wheat production. Cover crops like cereal rye, crimson clover, oats, millet and tillage radish, work double duty as a conservation tool and as feed for their cattle (either grazed or baled). Their innovation when it comes to cover crop mixes, seeding methods, and crop rotations have been the focus of farm tours hosted with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Other conservation practices include constructing grass waterways, terraces, and sediment basin structures. A field’s soil and location determine whether no-till, minimal or precision tillage practices are used.
To raise their cattle, the Scherders established a rotational grazing paddock system. In addition to fencing off streams and ponds from the cattle, a spring was rehabilitated in cooperation with the Missouri Department of Conservation to improve fish and wildlife habitat. Their farms feature more than 150 acres of food plots and field borders of native vegetation to attract quail, turkey, deer, pollinator insects and butterflies.
Off the farm, the Scherders have been active in the formation and development of the Peno Creek Partnership. The goal of this farmer-led watershed initiative is to inform other farmers and landowners on the importance of cover crops, rotational grazing systems, agricultural conservation practices and the ecological importance of the watershed to the Mississippi River. As a result, more than 2,000 additional acres of cover crops were planted by 42 landowners.
John and Sandy represented Missouri in the five-state Watershed Leaders Network developed by the Fishers and Farmers Partnership in 2016.
The Scherders exemplify what a conservation mindset can accomplish on a farm.