Tim Colen of Fairview is honored as the 2006 ‘Conservation Farmer of the Year’


Walking out the back door, Tim Colen looks out over the fields that surround his home near Fairview and inspects the barren land.

He doesn’t see awakening soil, however. Tim Colen sees the possibilities that lay before him as he prepares to begin another year of farming the land.

His land.

That commitment to farming has led the Switzerland County Soil and Water Conservation District to name Tim Colen it’s 2006 “Conservation Farmer of the Year”. He will be honored tomorrow (Friday) night during the SWCD’s Annual Meeting.

Born in Rising Sun to Hubert and Juanita Colen, Tim Colen moved with his family to Aberdeen as a young child, where he attended Cass Union School until the fourth grade. That’s when the family moved to Switzerland County and onto the old Cutter farm on Bear Branch Road near Fairview. After 2-3 years there, Hubert Colen purchased a nearby farm on Goodner Road – and the Colens still live there today.

Tim Colen doesn’t remember not being a farmer, as he always helped his dad on the family farm.

“I remember driving a tractor with a hay baler and a wagon behind it when I was five or six years old,” Tim Colen remembers. “Farming has always been a part of my life.”

Tim Colen and his wife, Michelle, now farm on Tim’s grandparent’s old farm on Colen Road, just around the corner from his parents. Tim’s dad purchased the farm when his father-in-law quit farming, and eventually Tim took over the operation.

“Dad started to milk cows when he moved to Goodner Road, but then he changed his mind and raised hogs instead,” Tim Colen says. “We raised hogs together until 1993, but then I decided it was time to get out of the hog business and go to mainly grain farming.”

The Colens raised some tobacco in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and Tim also did some moonlighting as a contractor while he continued to farm. He gave up his “second career” two years ago, and is now a full time farmer.

Tim Colen raises grain on about 900 acres, including his rented ground; and in the past he has allocated about 300 acres to corn and 600 acres of soybeans.

“That is probably going to change this year because of the high price of corn,” the businessman in Tim Colen says. “With corn at four dollars, I’m looking at going about half in half. If we can grow a good crop, there’s an opportunity to make some money in farming this year.”

Tim Colen attributes the rise in corn prices to the continued development of ethanol as an alternative fuel source. Made from corn, ethanol is now being targeted by the government as an effective way to lessen the country’s dependence on foreign oil.

That just one of the many changes in agriculture that Tim Colen has seen during his 30 years in farming.

“Oh, things change drastically all the time,” he says. “We used to plow and disc the ground, but in 1993 we started no-tilling soybeans and then we no-tilled our corn the next year. We’ve basically been 100-percent no-till since then, and that’s a big change.”

He also says that technology involving the development of better seed has made a big difference in farming; saying that such developments as “Round Up Ready” corn and soybeans have made bigger yields possible for farmers. Tim Colen also said that scientists have developed a “drought gene” for corn to keep the kernel from sprouting until the moisture in the soil is appropriate, fending off bad crops in times of little rain.

“There are so many changes in technology,” Tim Colen said, “Equipment has improved. The development of GPS systems has really changed things. There are guidance systems on tractors and other equipment. It’s all designed to maximize yields and production.”

As technology makes yields grow, there is also a national trend toward bigger and bigger farming operations. A single farmer today feeds more than 100 Americans, and that number grows yearly as larger farming operations grow and grow.

But Tim Colen still sees a future for the family farm.

“I think the family farm still exists,” he said. “They aren’t like they used to be, but they’re still out there. Today so many farms are getting split up by heirs and sold as housing lots because there’s so much more money in building lots than farm ground. That worries me, but I think the family farm will keep going.”

Marketing is another development in agriculture that today’s farmer has to deal with. Tim Colen said that agreements between producers and buyers can get tricky at times, but when a price is offered that looks to be a good deal, he says that today’s farmer has to do what they think is best.

“I don’t figure it out,” Tim Colen says. “Get a good price and sell and live with it. That’s our market today.”

After 30 years in farming, where does Tim Colen think farming will be in another 30 years?

“Wow, what a good question,” he ponders. “More things will change, like they are now. It’s changed so much in the last 10 years, I can’t imagine where we will be in the next 30. People keep building houses on farm land, so if demand for food keeps going up, we’ll have to figure ways of growing more on less land, just like we have been.”