Rob Stout of Washington is the latest winner of the Iowa Pork Producers Association’s (IPPA) 2017 Iowa Environmental Steward Award.

“It’s very humbling to be selected,” Stout said. “There are lots of stewards in the state, and it’s nice to be recognized. We don’t do it for the awards, but it’s good to know the things we do are being recognized.”

Stout began farming about 40 years ago with his father, Bob. Rob finishes nearly 9,000 pigs annually and farms about 1,100 acres of corn and soybeans with his stepson, Alex, who joined him in 2012. Bob passed away in 2015.

Manure application

Rob and Alex are certified manure applicators and inject all their own manure, waiting until soil temperatures are below 50 degrees to begin application. Stout applies about 120 to 150 pounds of nitrogen from manure in the fall, with soil and manure samples analyzed to determine additional side-dress applications or rate adjustments. Pig diet adjustments have reduced the amount of phosphorus in the manure, too. By using manure, Stout estimates he saves $30,000 to $40,000 annually in fertilizer costs, and soil health is improved.

Various conservation practices

Stout uses several different conservation practices. He has no-tilled all of the corn and soybean acres since 1990 to prevent soil erosion. Terraces were constructed on the farm in the 1980s, along with a pond, to control gully erosion.

In 2014, Stout installed a sub-surface bioreactor to intercept drainage on 65 to 70 acres. It was the first farm-scale bioreactor south of I-80 in Iowa.

“We’d like to install additional pollinator strips, which will help the bees and monarchs,” Stout said. “Beneficial insects eat the bad insects, and bees can help pollinate soybeans.”

Thirty acres of the steepest ground are enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and riparian buffers have been established in other areas along streams. Grass waterways are used extensively to control erosion.

Stout started using rye cover crops in 2009 in a trial with Iowa Learning Farms, which evolved into a 10-year project comparing strips with and without cover crops. He began steadily increasing his use of cover crops to the point where he has established them on all of his acres for the last three years.

“I’d like to keep trying more cover crops, adding more than one species,” he said. “I planted four last fall and want to keep being the least environmentally impactful.”

Being neighborly

Neighbor relations are very important to Stout. The Stouts created the hog building as far away from neighbors as possible and established a visual screen of trees between the farm and the nearest neighbor.

“Being a good neighbor can be a lot of things, like moving snow, but it also includes being a good environmental neighbor. We’re all part of the watershed to those downstream of us to the Gulf of Mexico. We don’t want to affect anyone in a negative way.”

Stout has received numerous awards, including the Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award and the Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award. Stout worked with neighboring farmers to establish the West Fork Crooked Creek watershed project and has presented his conservation experiences at the Iowa Pork Congress.

“Not only has Rob done a great job as a steward of the environment, he has also been a leader in his community for advancing soil and water conservation practices,” said Greg Brenneman, Iowa State University (ISU) Extension ag engineering field specialist, in his nomination letter. “Rob has done this by example and with a willingness to share information and experiences with anyone. Always humble, approachable and bringing a positive attitude, Rob epitomizes what I think of as an environmental steward.”

Stout says he’s just trying to do what’s best for future generations.

“We want to make our piece of the world a little better and better for the next generation – so others pick up on it. One person can make a bit of difference, but many of us can do a lot. We can have a better place for all of us to live.”

The Environmental Steward Award was established in 2007 by the IPPA Environmental Committee to recognize pork producers who go above and beyond in environmental stewardship. The selection committee judges the nominees on the producer’s manure management, soil and water conservation practices, air quality strategies, wildlife habitat management and environmental management innovations.

Kort is a freelance writer in Ankeny.