Conservation isn't a new concept for the Long and Crow family of Marshall County, where no-till has been in practice for more than 40 years. 

“Grandpa stated using no-till on his fields back in the '70s,” explained Ethan Crow, who now farms the land his grandfather, Clair Long, settled his family on in 1956.

“In the '70s, conservation really started to take off,” Long said. “I knew I wanted to leave the land in better shape than I found it for the next generation.”

Clair and Helen Long, who celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary at the beginning of March, still live on that original homeplace. It’s ground that Crow knows well, living his whole life near the farm, working alongside his parents, Ron and Lorraine Crow, and grandparents.

“Ethan pretty much grew up out here,” Long said.

Now, Crow manages much of the operation, overseeing not only the no-till practices but a variety of other conservation efforts including use of cover crops, buffer strips and variable rate fertilizer application. He also grows his own cover seeds, with dedicated rye and winter wheat fields. 

Diversification is key

Diversification is a big part of the Long family legacy, ever since Clair Long started growing sweet corn in the 1950s. By the '80s, Long’s Sweet Corn was a staple of summers in Marshalltown. The family, Marshall County Farm Bureau members, still raises sweet corn, selling it at farmers markets in the area and a roadside stand from July to mid-August.

Crow also grows commercial corn and soybeans, has hay fields and pasture, manages a small beef cattle herd and raises chickens for eggs to sell. 

Next on the agenda: popcorn.

“How great would it be to sell on-the-ear popcorn from our stand?” Crow mused while talking the idea over with Long.

(Photo above: Clair Long and grandson Ethan Crow at the Long homeplace in Marshall County. Both men have a long history of conservation efforts with Long maintaining no-till practices on his fields since the 1970s. The family has also, for many years, sold home grown sweet corn every summer.  PHOTOS / COREY MUNSON)

Pride in the heritage

Listening to the generations talk like this, one can hear the pride Long has for his grandson.

“When I look out at our fields, they look so good now,” Long said. 

“Being able to plant on these hills is such a blessing. (Crow) runs up and down these hills with equipment, planting, and there’s no erosion. It’s amazing.”

Crow’s most recent experiment was to plant soybeans into standing winter wheat. The soybeans didn't produce very well in 2020, but Crow said he’s made a few adjustments and will try again this year. 

His philosophy is if he can get more value out of multiple crops from the same land in the same year, that helps his bottom line.