Luke Broulik and Tim Keegan are third-generation conservationist farmers on the Broulick farm in Linn County.

"We were taught conservation as we grew up by my father who used conservation practices like terracing, contour plowing, waterways and buffer strips," said Robert Broulik. He explains how his father, Leonard, instilled conservation ethics in him and his two brothers, John and Dan.

Broulik now farms with his son, Luke and son in law Keegan near Mount Vernon. There operation includes row crop, pasture and a 150-head commercial cow/calf operation.

In 1972 when plowing every field was the norm, the Broulik’s skipped the plow on their bean stubble and just disked it. That was also the first time any herbicide was applied on the farm.

"We realized then that, oh my gosh, you could raise a crop without plowing," says Robert. Ten years later, they took conservation tillage practices to a new level when they evolved from minimum tillage to no-till.

Stepping up

Now the Linn County Farm Bureau members are moving to an even higher level by implementing practices such as variable rate fertilizer application and other nutrient management practices and cover crops.

But conservation is not necessarily just about implementing new practices. It’s about sustaining those practices across the generations.

"A lot of what Luke and I have done is things that Robert has taught us over the years. What we are doing was started years ago. It’s not just a one-year deal. It takes a lot more time and effort," Keegan said.

Robert recalls one piece of their ground that had eroded down to the clay layer in the 1970s before they began using no-till practices. After years of conservation practices applied to the ground, soil testing shows the field is healing.

No-till believers

Tim stresses that: "Cover crops are really the hot item right now, but in our opinion, the biggest conservation measures are no-till and taking care of your waterways."

They have invested in a bulldozer and other equipment so they can do their own waterway and terrace work. They also do all of their own tiling.

"In the spring, Robert is out there working on our waterways. In the fall we’d rather be tiling and working on waterways than doing field work, which isn’t necessary when you use no-till," says Tim.

Importance of livestock

Robert has a unique perspective on conservation: "My motto for conservation is every farm needs a cow herd. The cows need fed, so then you put areas into grass and waterways in order to provide feed for them. If every farm had cows, there would be a lot more acres of land in grass."

For their 150-head cow herd, they only have 10 acres of actual hay ground, the rest of the grass and hay they need for their cows comes from their extensive waterway and buffer strip system.

The Brouliks’ commitment to and enthusiasm for conservation practices has influenced landlords they farm for who allow them to implement conservation practices on their ground also. "Working with landlords who understand conservation principles makes this a lot more fun," says Tim.

Convincing landlords

All three expressed their concern that a looming problem for conservation is they see a big turnover in landowners to absentee owners who may look at nothing more than the bottom line, which isn’t necessarily the best thing for the land.

"We see this as a huge issue. Our goal is to get the word out about the things we are doing to try and get people to see the value of conservation practices," said Robert, who adds: "We’re conservationists. That’s our biggest priority. Our next priority is to help the land to produce as much as it can without overusing chemicals and fertilizers."

The Broulik farm operation is one of the largest enrollee’s in the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) in Linn County with nearly every acre enrolled in some sort of CSP practice.

"We will not see the returns on our current investments in conservation practices for 10 years or more. That is the thing with conservation; it’s the next generation that sees the results," Keegan said.

Learn more about farmers' conservation efforts

• Iowa Farm Bureau Conservation Counts

• Clean Water Iowa

• Iowa Nutrient Research and Education Council

• Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy