Retired Hancock County farmer Gary Boswell stands near a portion of his wildflower farm that’s now dormant. Boswell removed more than 200 acres from being used as cropland in 2016 in favor of growing wildflowers.

Gary Boswell is looking forward to the spring.

And it’s not because it’s the start of a new crop planting season.

For Boswell, who retired from full-time farming in 2017, the warmer weather means his more than 200 acres of wildflowers in Hancock County will go from the dormant stage to coming alive with beauty, drawing both wildlife and popular insects such as butterflies.

“If you come back in the spring, there are eight varieties of wildflowers,” he said. “They’ll start out with short brighter colored flowers — oranges, reds, yellows and then there will be some white come in. There’s more yellow because they say they attract more butterflies and insects.”

There was a time when those fields were used for growing corn, soybeans, wheat and hay.

Boswell, 73, and his younger brother, Bill, planted and harvested nearly 3,000 acres for decades, with the two splitting the work between them.

But a year prior to retiring, the Boswells decided to apply for the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

According to the USDA’s website, farmers who enroll in the program receive an annual rental payment if they “agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality. The long-term goal of the program is to re-establish valuable land cover to help improve water quality, prevent soil erosion, and reduce loss of wildlife habitat.”

Dwayne Sandefur, the USDA’s district conservationist, said the federal government only grants a certain number of acres annually nationwide in what’s called field CRPs.

Sandefur helped Boswell become one of the first in the region to establish a field CRP and turn it into a pollinator habitat.

“The field is designed to bloom at four to five different times of the year,” said Sandefur who helped Boswell come up with his technical plan.

Boswell said he placed about 240 acres and his brother enrolled around 80 acres into the CRP in 2016. The contract is for 10 years.

Although he’s been reimbursed by the CRP, Boswell said he invested about $60,000 in upfront costs, which included the seeds and the machinery.

Not only has he created a natural habitat for wildlife and insects, he’s also made it a place where he can spend time with bird dogs.

“It’s kind of an expensive deal to do but it pays you back pretty good — probably not as much as farming it would right now with the prices of grain,” he said. “But the money wasn’t what I was after. I was after a place to run my bird dogs. I don’t kill many birds but I do love to watch a good bird dog work.”

Although the land has been converted to wildflowers, maintenance either by controlled burns, chemicals or mowing still has to be done to ensure successful wildflower growth.

“Burning is the best option if you can get it done,” Boswell said. “Grass will overtake all the flowers if you can’t burn it about every third year. “…The Lewisport Fire Department has been pretty nice about letting me burn some.”

Along with wildflowers, Boswell has about 8 acres of wetlands he’s entered into the CRP. The wetlands attract geese, ducks and other wildlife as well.

But it’s his wildflower farm that he has grown to love over the past five years.

“If you really want to see it pretty, you need to come back about four times in the summer,” Boswell said. “I’m really proud of it and well pleased with it.”

Currently, the USDA is conducting its general CRP enrollment period. The deadline to sign up is Feb. 12.

Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299

Don Wilkins, dwilkins@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7299

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