Brothers in Lucas County last week were recognized for their work in caring for their cattle, crops and land.

Mike and Nick Hunter of Chariton were presented the Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award. The award, sponsored by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Ag Radio Network and the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers, recognizes farmers who go above and beyond in caring for their livestock and their land.

The Hunters grew up on the family’s diversified farm near Derby. After obtaining ag business degrees from Iowa State University, they came back to the farm, where they decided to focus their efforts on raising cattle.

Today, they raise 150 cow-calf pairs, operate a heifer development program and raise club calves.

"We started the heifer development program where we take in customers’ heifers and develop them through the winter. We AI (artificially inseminate) them or breed them to a bull and send them back to their pasture. We’ll also keep some in our lots and feed them, and we’ll deliver (customers) a developed, bred heifer," Nick said.

The brothers started the development program about a year ago and currently run about 500 head through the program. It’s a good way to utilize their hoop barns, Nick said.

"We have better environmental control in our hoop buildings," he said.

In addition to raising cattle for many years, the brothers started a Christmas tree farm.

"We blame that on Iowa State," Mike said, explaining that they were taught to diversify their farms while studying there.

The Christmas tree farm has been a mainstay in the community, selling approximately 550 trees per year. It’s become a family project for Nick and his wife, Alyse, and their four children and Mike and his wife, Laurie, and their four children.

They also have a business in which they transplant trees, moving trees raised on their farm or helping others in the area plant trees.

The Hunter brothers say conservation is key on their southern Iowa farm.

They’ve constructed at least 10 miles of terraces, which they say are essential for erosion control. They’ve also planted cover crops — this year, it’s cereal rye — though they’ve tried other species. They have been no-till farmers for more than 30 years.

"We don’t have much topsoil to begin with, so every ounce of topsoil we do have we need to keep," Nick said.

The brothers grow corn, soybeans, hay and have more than 1,000 acres of pasture.

This year has been a prime example of those benefits, he said.

"Some ground around here is tilled, and you can see evidence of major erosion because of the wet spring," Nick said.

The implementation of cover crops, terraces, no-till practices, filter strips and sediment basins are not only good to protect their soil, but also to protect water quality, the brothers say. They recognize the importance of keeping water clean.

"People have ponds below us (in the watershed), and you don’t want to lose your soil and ruin their water source," Nick said.

John Glenn, CEO of the Rathbun Regional Water Assoc­iation, nominated the brothers for the award.

"They epitomize what most people who receive this award do," he said. "They are not just good neighbors to the people that enjoy their land, but for their communities."

The Hunter brothers were recognized in 1993 by the Natural Heritage Foundation for their conservation efforts and received the Rathbun Lake Protector Award in 2006.

Their volunteer efforts have been "carried out without fanfare or desire for attention," according to Glenn, and include their work with the Lucas County Cattlemen, Lucus County Farm Bureau, the Iowa Soybean Association, South Central Co-op, Trees Forever, the school board and other local groups and organizations.