A conservation plan for every farm

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I have been blessed to inherit a wonderful 300-acre working farm in Eastern Iowa along the Mississippi River’s high bluff area. Purchased by my grandparents in 1943 as a land investment, it is a beautiful, naturally wild scenic place nestled in and among one of Iowa’s high limestone bluffs in a karst area. The land has deep hardwood timber stands, rolling pastures streams and fertile tillable ground.

Growing up, I didn’t spend much time on our “family farm,” but that has changed over the last two decades. I am now at my farm frequently and take an active role in the operation. I love to be there. Being an avid outdoor, athletic person all of my life, I’ve had the opportunity to travel, hike and explore mountains, foreign countries, volcanoes, oceans and much more. What I have come to realize is that the splendor of nature and our incredible environment can also be found here in Iowa.

During the year of 2000, an epiphany gave me a clearer viewpoint, appreciation and sense of owner responsibility to protect and nurture the farm’s natural and environmental worth to itself and the surrounding area. As a result, I added buffer strips to tillable acres to control excessive soil runoff in this fragile landscape. A wetland was created in collaboration with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to encourage the return of native and migratory birds for nesting during spring and to collect the runoff from upper tillable fields. I’ve been working to improve pasture maintenance for invasive plant species control and a stream restoration and stabilization project. Many other sustainable farm practices have been employed to help preserve the longevity, vitality and productivity of the land.

My farm never ceases to amaze me with its changing seasonal faces, temperaments, challenges and ongoing rhythm of life and death, both plant and animal. Our time here on earth is short in comparison to the ongoing longevity of our natural resources, our Iowa landscape. An Iowa state forester has told me one of my majestic oak trees is as old as the Civil War era. How wonderful it is to know that whenever I stay at my farm, I can see that beautiful oak tree standing tall with so much of our state’s and the earth’s history embedded in its timbers.

This farm has become very important to me, and I hope that every farm family and person living on a farmstead or working the land feels a similar appreciation for the natural resources they manage. However, I know that there are serious problems. I have seen too often, that my property is being degraded by excessive runoff from fields in the watershed above us. I see that too often, the thin soils of this karst area are not being adequately protected from erosion. We are impacted by the growing number of large livestock facilities being built nearby and have experienced runoff from the increasing amount of manure being spread on steep slopes. I wonder what is being funneled into the sinkholes that feed the groundwater, which supplies our area’s drinking water. We all need to be practical farmers and make a living, but in the process, we need to find a reasonable balance. Whether one lives on a farm or in a city, our land and natural resources should be given a top priority, to use, yes, but also to respect and not harmfully exploit.

As I have considered what can be done to encourage more appreciation and stewardship of our land, I think one important action that should be taken is to require — or at least incentivize — all landowners to develop a conservation plan, ideally working with any renters to create and implement it. The conservation planning I have done has greatly benefited my land and, over time, my finances. It helped me better understand the options to take care of my property, to maintain its productivity and long-term assets, and reduce our off-site impacts. This is especially important as rainfall patterns change, and we face issues like the 11-inch rainfall that happened not long ago, turning my quiet stream into a raging river.

Every farm has a different profile, and conservation planning takes that into consideration. The process of creating a conservation plan requires you to think beyond your routine practices, to ask new questions, to learn new things about your land and its capacities. Why suggest that this needs to be a requirement? Let’s face it, so often it is where the resident land managers think they don’t need a conservation plan where it is needed the most.

Have I mentioned that I am a longtime, staunch Republican? As such, I believe that the values I have expressed are shared by many others in the political party I identify with. But I hope that we can work together with all parties to protect and improve our resources.

I would like to think that it is our legacy as Iowans to lead the country and the world in good land stewardship as well as the progressive agricultural technologies we are known for. A robust initiative to have a conservation plan for every farm can encourage knowledge, appreciation and improved methodologies for sound ‘agri-cultural’ practices that will lead to a productive, balanced environment to pass on to the future.

• Ann Dekker Wolf is a marketing, public relations, business and fundraising professional, and a Jackson County Landowner.

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