Northern Iowa farmers Wayne and Ruth Fredericks from Osage have been named winners of the American Soybean Association’s (ASA) 2022 National Conservation Legacy Award. 

The couple, who farm near Osage, received the award during the annual ASA Awards Banquet at Commodity Classic.

Fredericks calls himself the “accidental conservationist.” 

When he started farming in 1973, he believed a fully conventional tillage operation was the only way to go. But after nearly 20 years, Mother Nature upended those plans on their Osage farm, turning Fredericks into a lifetime proponent of all things conservation.

“Our land needed the plow to raise soybeans successfully, or so I thought,” he says. “For the first 19 years, I plowed all my cornstalks ahead of soybeans, and I worked all my soybean stubble ahead of corn. In the winter of 1991, I was faced with a challenge I had yet to encounter. My farmland froze early, and I had not gotten my cornstalks plowed. What was I going to do?”

On the advice of his John Deere dealer, Fredericks planted his soybeans with a drill the following season. The crop performed well, weeds were under control and a smooth harvest led to strong yields. 

Fredericks never looked back, and today after almost 50 years farming with his wife, Ruth, the 756-acre farm of corn and soybeans is in a no-till/strip-till rotation. The farm also includes about eight acres of pollinator habitat enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

One of his goals became setting an example for other farmers and sharing information he learned.

“Strip-till corn came about a decade after no-till. The technology evolved and showed very real promise for those of us farming in colder, wetter climates,” says Fredericks. “I live and farm ‘just south of the North Pole,’ where many farmers believe it is too cold to practice no-till or to plant cover crops. I have proven them wrong.”

Fredericks has seen dramatic  improvements in his soils as well. 

“In a long-term study that looked at some of our farm, we nearly doubled our organic matter in 30 years after we quit conventional tillage and went to no-till, strip-till and now, cover crops,” he says. “Organic matter helps build soil structure and can supplement additional moisture needs when it gets dry.”