I’ll bet you a St. Paddy’s Day Guinness you can’t name a trade that’s greener than farming. You would be hard-pressed to beat acres of corn stretching to the horizon, grass stains on Wranglers and the evolving on-farm environmental practices that protect our soil, water and air (practices we refer to as “green”). But some Iowa businesses are catching up by doing a lot of the same things farmers have always done.

Take Hy-Capacity, a Humboldt, Iowa company that refurbishes tractor parts and sells them to customers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Recently, the company shifted from low waste to virtually no waste thanks to the vision of family ownership and management, the creativity of a “Green Team” and the commitment of Hy-Capacity’s employees.

“In less than three months, we won recognition [from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources] as a ‘Zero Waste Company’ thanks to a collection of efforts by employees,” said Vice President Molly Varangkounh. “Together, we’ve done everything from converting our lighting to save energy, to switching out Styrofoam products whenever we can.”

The company—which also received the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s Renew Rural Iowa Entrepreneur award—achieved an amazing reduction in its waste in a short period of time by adhering to a philosophy that farmers have always used: use as little as possible and reuse everything you can. It’s amazing to see the similarities between Hy-Capacity’s recycling policies and what has always been done on farms.

• Hy-Capacity captures rainwater from its roof and uses it in the manufacturing process. That’s a lot like farmers, who capture nutrients on farm ground through conservation tillage, terraces and stream buffer strips. They also build fertility in the soil by leaving behind crop residue (stalks, cobs and leaves) and using a natural fertilizer that’s been used for centuries, livestock manure.

• Hy-Capacity’s recycling center is, well, recycled; the company built it from reused beams, tin and doors. That’s just the way farmers reuse materials when they build something new. In fact, my parents and brother recently built a small feed mill on our family farm using boards, poles, lights, augers and bulk bins that were already on the place. They also used a refurbished mixer and mill for the new project.

• Hy-Capacity installed lighting fixtures that use 50 to 70 percent less energy. Farmers have always looked for ways to conserve, and it has become even more important as farm profitability has waned and energy costs have soared. A program initiated by Iowa Farm Bureau, Consumers Energy, Iowa State University Extension, with support from the Iowa Corn Growers Association and Iowa Pork Producers Association, is helping farmers find more ways to cut energy costs.

Conservation and recycling principles being adopted by the most progressive businesses are ingrained in farming. So it’s no surprise that farmers have cut energy use by 37 percent per bushel of corn produced and 65 percent out of raising a bushel of soybeans over the last 20 years, according to Field to Market group and The Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. Greenhouse gas emissions per bushel produced have been slashed by more than 30 percent.

The model for environmental protection doesn’t need to be reinvented, just perpetuated and continually improved. As businesses become greener and look for ways to save energy, recycle and reuse, they can look to farming, the original “green” business.

Written by Zach Bader
Zach is a Communications Specialist for Iowa Farm Bureau.