Innovation, determination and a deep love and appreciation for agriculture. Those essential attributes show through clearly in each of three finalists for the 2018 Iowa Farm Bureau Achievement Award: Alle and Ryan Bailey of Ringgold County, Kipp Fehr of Palo Alto County, and Sherwin and Kristin Plate of Mahaksa County.

Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer Achievement Award honors members between the ages of 18 to 35 who show outstanding management ability in their farming operations and involvement in community activities. The winners of the 2018 award will be announced at the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting next month in Des Moines.

Building a strong team

Alle and Ryan Bailey see building a strong team as vital to the success of their row crop and cattle farm in the rolling hills of southwest Iowa.

“One of the key things that we’ve learned over the years is that we can’t be experts on everything, but we can surround ourselves with experts,” Ryan said. “Whether that means working with our agronomist, our beef nutritionist, our veterinarian and others, we’ve really been blessed to have a great team of people to work with.”

Working with that team, the Baileys improved genetics and enhanced the feeding program for their commercial cow/calf herd. Those improvements mean that their calves reach market weight earlier, resulting in more pounds sold and a better opportunity for profit.

The Baileys, who have one son and farm with Ryan’s family, have also worked to improve the agronomics and weed control on their crop and forage acres. They recently started a retail seed business, complete with a drone for crop scouting, plot tours and field days to provide information to customers. Along with providing off-farm income, the Baileys say the seed business has enhanced their ability to select seed genetics and traits best suited for their fields.

Although working through the challenges of weather and markets is often stressful, Alle and Ryan Bailey love farm life and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

“I still think it’s amazing to plant a seed in the ground and watch it grow into corn or see a calf grow,” Alle said. “I love it that your work on the farm is so tangible and it’s also great to know you are feeding people.”

Taking a new path

When Kipp Fehr began adopting strip tillage, it was a rare practice in Palo Alto County and all over northern Iowa. “I think I had more than a few guys wondering what I was doing,” he said.

Still, the more the Fehr learned about the strip tillage, the more he realized it made sense for his farm. “It’s been a great move for me,” he said. “Using strip till saves time and fuel, and it’s better for the soil and for water quality, and my yields have either stayed the same or even gone up a little bit.”

Fehr’s success with strip tilling has helped him add to his custom farming business. He currently does custom strip tilling on several area farms, along with custom spraying and harvesting. He also works at a local implement dealer.

Farming both independently and with his father, Fehr has also experimented with cover crops and hopes to expand the practice to more acres. “I think they can help anchor the soil in place and hold back some of the weeds,” he said.

Getting an early start

Sherwin and Kristin Plate started building their farm early. While still in high school and before they were married, the couple purchased land from a relative. “It was scary for me,” Kristin said. “It was a lot of money and a long-term investment.”

But the 2005 purchase paid off for the young couple. “It allowed us to get a good foundation to get started,” Sherwin said.

The Plates, who have three children, started farming full time after Sherwin served in the U.S. Army in South Korea, with tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today they raise row crops in a partnership with Sherwin’s family and feed pigs on their own.

They started contract feeding in 2015 and added a second hog barn earlier this year. “We love feeding pigs, so this was a no-brainer,” the couple noted on their entry form.

For the past several years the Plates have also integrated cover crops into their no-till cropping operation. “We wanted to improve soil health and reduce erosion, and we think cover crops are helping us to do that,” Sherwin said.

For both Sherwin and Kristin Plate one of the best things about farming is the variety. “One day you are working with hogs, the next day you might be welding or driving a truck,” Sherwin said. “There’s not many jobs that have that kind of variety.”

The winner of the Young Farmer Achievement Award will receive either a John Deere Skid Steer/Compact Track Loader (G Series) for 1 year/1500 hr lease or a John Deere tractor/loader combo (5 Series-7 Series) for one-year or a 300-hour lease or a TX Gator, valued at $9,500.

The winner will also receive a 90-day NPNI (no payment, no interest) John Deere Financial certificate (up to $5,000) and an expense-paid trip to the 2018 Growmark annual meeting in Chicago.

In addition, the winner will represent Iowa in the national Young Farmer Achievement Award competition at the 2019 American Farm Bureau annual meeting in New Orleans. The national winner of the Young Farmer Achievement Award will receive a 2019 Ford truck (valued at $35,000). Second place will receive a Case IH Farmall 50A. Third-place finalist will receive a Case IH 40-inch combination roll cabinet and top chest, a $500 Case IH parts card and $2,000 word of Stanley Black & Decker merchandise. Fourth-place finalist will receive a Case IH 40-inch combination roll cabinet and top chest, and a $500 Case IH parts card.