Building on tradition
For a century now on the Pancratz farm, located just outside of Dubuque, two things are held dear: the family tradition of raising and milking Guernsey cows and caring for the land so it will be in better condition for the next generation.
This week, the Pancratz family will be honored for their Century Farm during a ceremony at the Iowa State Fair. They join a venerable group of operations that track their family and land back 100 years or more. In 2021, 476 Iowa Century Farms will be recognized.
The event will also recognize 205 Heritage Farms in Iowa — operations that have been in the family for 150 years or more. In all, Iowa is home to more than 20,500 Century Farms and more than 1,500 Heritage Farms.
Randy and Diane Pancratz are the fourth generation to occupy land first bought by Randy’s great uncle.
The operation today includes a 40-head dairy operation, corn and soybean acres, and hayfields along with Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) acres.
The CSP ground, the newest of farm's conservation efforts, includes long stretches of wildflowers and other plants that are part of a pollinator mix planted three years ago with an eye to giving pollinating insects the food and environment they need to thrive in Iowa. He also installed wetlands and a retention pond on the farm.
“Of all the things we do out here, I think the conservation efforts are what I’m most proud of,” Pancratz said. “I heard long ago that no society lasted long after losing its topsoil. That kind of became a mission for me, to maintain the land.”
Protecting the soil
Pancratz also does no-till or limited-till on most of his acres. Located in the Driftless Region of Iowa, his land features rolling hills, which are easily damaged by heavy rains on tilled ground in the spring.
Since implementing limited till in the 1990s and adding cover crops in recent years, Pancratz has seen reduced runoff and experienced better soil moisture retention.
Near the family’s CSP acres, Pancratz’s neighbor set up beehives that now produce hundreds of pints of high-quality Iowa honey each year. Pancratz showed off his pantry that was stocked, floor to ceiling, with jars of honey — a testament to how well the CSP ground is working.
On the dairy side, Pancratz continues the family’s long tradition with Guernsey dairy cows.
“We’ve tried other species over the years, but we just really like Guernseys,” he said. “I think it’s interesting to think that a cow has been milked on this land, every day, for the last 100 years.”
The next generation
Continuing the family business into the next generation has been the Pancratzes' goal for many years.
Two years ago, Randy and Diane Pancratz's son, Ben, joined the operation part time and bought his own 75 acres just up the road. Ben Pancratz raises Guernsey and Brown Swiss dairy cows on his land, plus row crops.
“There was never a question in my mind (that) I’d want to keep farming as long as I could. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy it,” Ben Pancratz said. “A lot of it comes down to the lifestyle. I like always being busy, having something to do.”
For his side of the dairy operation, Ben Pancratz is focused on genetics, working on perfecting lines and possibly selling breeding stock in the future.
“I like the Guernseys. They run pretty deep in my family,” he said.
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