Iowa’s landscape shows farmers’ continual progress in conservation
Two miles west of Sigourney in front of a farmstead on Highway 92, stands a historical marker noting the site of the first state-sanctioned plowing match in 1939. I drove past it a few weeks ago, on a parts run further east. It wasn’t the marker that got my attention, however. Instead, it was the farm’s gentle slopes, so green and tall in mid-November that one could scarcely see the stubble remaining from the current year’s crop. The cover crops were up and doing their job of preserving soil and improving water quality.
A lot has changed since 1939.
When I was a boy, my father would haul one of his antique tractors and a two-bottom plow into Living History Farms. They hosted a plowing match near the end of every summer.
There in the oat stubble the contestants were judged on residue cover, the straightness of the furrows and the squareness of their ends. And there, in the oat stubble, they connected to days long gone.
A news report
One year, a local news station was to use dad in the background as they interviewed out neighbor, George, about the plowing match. The shot was timed perfectly, and Dad chugged along, approaching them and the end of his furrow.
He reached back, tripped the plow, only to have the wheel raise all the way up, only to rotate right back down again. He started making the turn, still plowing as he went.
George looked right into the camera and said deftly, "We seem to be experiencing technical difficulties."
The scar in the soil was there to prove it.
Not destined to be a plowing champion that year, Dad returned home, where he served on the local Soil and Water Conservation Board.
On the family’s farm, he had many years already behind him of establishing waterways and constructing terraces. A plow still saw occasional use, defining the ridges for the side-hill contours he would now follow.
But his most prized implement was his new Deere planter, equipped with everything he needed to no-till into corn stalks to help reduce soil loss.
Back home, Dad wasn’t just taking note of the technical difficulties of the past ways of farming; he was setting out to correct them.
Today that correction continues, step by step into a better present, creating a better past for the next generation to build on, with an entire future lying ahead.
Outside of Sigourney, history was as it always is: in the making. The green of the cover crop is testament to that.
Hanrahan is the president of the Madison County Farm Bureau.
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