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Janisch farms for living, stays conservation-minded

TOWN OF EL PASO --- "Kind of awkward" is how Joe Janisch described his feelings in being honored as a conservation farmer by the Ellsworth Lions Club.

After all, Janisch is just trying to make a living farming, and occupied with that, hasn't had time for a lot of outside activities. But he acknowledges carrying on the conservation practices his late grandfather, Clair, established on his family's Century Farm in the Town of El Paso.

"I'm a hunter and fisher, and I don't want the runoff going into the Lost Creek running through the back of my place, either," he said Friday, likening that spot to a vacation getaway.

For carrying on conservation efforts, Janisch will receive a Lions award during a banquet in the local Legion hall Monday, May 21. The 1996 Ellsworth High School graduate has worked with the county's land conservation office in the past, having laid out some pasture acreage into contour strips several years ago.

Besides contour stripping on any side hills, the farm features waterways installed by his grandpa, he said. He farms 320 acres, 240 of which are tillable, plus 150 rented nearby. Corn accounts for 120 acres of the crops, while there's 100 acres of winter wheat and the rest is in hay or new seed.

"I grow the crops to feed my cattle," he said, despite corn prices having gone up as increased demand for ethanol has given them a "kick." He later noted he rotates his hay crop, though not with as much soybeans as some farmers.

Calling himself a "cow" man, Janisch said he milks around 50 Holsteins as well as butchers a few steers and raises a few pigs. When still in high school, he used to raise a few hundred of the latter, but quit once the market for them dropped.

A year-and-a-half out of school, he got the chance to work at a 500-cow dairy in Elk Mound, he said. There, he learned veterinary techniques, among other skills. He's been consulting with a nutritionist from Countryside Farm Service to help assure proper feeding. Since a run-in with a bull that left him injured, he's taken on the herd's breeding.

It was a call from his grandpa about plans by his father, Dave, to try non-farming work that prompted his return to the home farm, he said. He'd known as a youth he'd be a farmer and didn't hesitate over the decision. He assumed control of the farm in 1998, but his dad still helps out.

The fifth-generation farmer has achieved a present herd average of 25,000 pounds, he said. The milk is shipped to the Ellsworth Co-op Creamery, with the price paid per hundredweight lately reaching the 16.50 mark. Whey appears to be driving the milk market and he hopes the 19 level will be reached this summer.

Janisch said he sells all the bull calves within a couple of days after their birth, but keeps the heifers. His herd has been producing more of the former than the latter.

Recently, he installed sand bedding in the barn, he said. The 50-stall structure has been renovated with new tie stalls and revamped tunnel ventilation. It's equipped with a milk pipeline and barn cleaner, part of the equipment around the farm he referred to as conventional.

When meal time arrives, he appreciates wife Gina's cooking, he said. He met his spouse, a Monticello, Minn., native, while she was attending UW-Stout in Menomonie, studying early childhood education. She taught preschool until their younger daughter was born; Lillianna is now 13-months-old and their older girl, Miah, age six, has already shown interest in farming as a vocation. She "adopted" a heifer named "Rose," which her dad kids her about selling.

He's one of four children himself. He said he has a brother, Mike, a musician in London, and two sisters, Marie and Karen, who live in this vicinity, as does his mother, Debbie Severson. Another brother, Dave, died in a farming accident.

Janisch's mate initially talked to the Lions member who called unexpectedly with a request three club members be allowed to come and interview them for the award, he said. Because the call occurred around April Fool's Day, he didn't take it seriously, at first.

"I thought one of my friends, 'Windy,' was playing a joke on me," he said.

The interview session included many questions and the farmer must have made an impression on the visitors, as he thinks there may be a plaque for him to display at home. Yet, of any recognition, Janisch takes particular satisfaction in the support he's gotten from his grandma, Anna, still occupying the house in front of his. She's been delighted with the progression as the land has been handed down to his father and now him.

"She's lived on this farm for 60 years," he proudly said.