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Project launched to start farm-urban dialogue

Project launched to start farm-urban dialogue
Bill Couser, right, discusses the Modern Ag Experience project with Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig, center, and Rick Sanders, chair of the Story County Board of Supervisors.

A 220-acre field near Nevada in Story County has a mix of all types of Iowa landscapes. It’s not suited for just one type of farming practice, and that’s what makes it a great piece to showcase a variety of farming practices.

The field, owned by the Couser family, was divided into six separate pieces that will be used as a demonstration farm to compile research and to show urban dwellers modern farming. The Cousers are calling it the Modern Ag Experience Farm.

“This farm basically describes the landscape of Iowa,” says Tim Couser, who is working with his dad, Bill; brother, Casey; and mother, Nancy, to develop the project. “Each one of these six fields describes a different landscape in Iowa so we’re going to treat them differently.”

The fields range from low to highly productive acres.

While some acres are great for growing crops, others work best as a pollinator habitat. While some are diversified for growing a cover crop and grazing cattle, other acres are improved with the addition of a bioreactor.

Just as the Cousers are treating each area of the larger piece of land differently based on soil types, productivity and topography, farmers in Iowa are also working to better manage their fields, says Iowa Ag Secretary Mike Naig.

Showing ag Diversity

“I think it underscores that there’s a tremendous amount of variability from north to south and east to west in our state. And that’s why our method to work on improving soil health and improving water quality is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” Naig said. “There are geographic differences. In this case, there are significant differences within the field. They’re trying to treat them differently with different technologies and farming practices and really test and demonstrate all of that. That really underscores what we’re trying to do in the bigger picture, which is work with farmers and landowners to implement the practices that make sense in their operation and on their fields.”

The Cousers partnered with Bayer, the Iowa Soybean Association, La Crosse Seed, the Environmental Defense Fund, Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN and the Soil Health Partnership/National Corn Growers Association to make the project possible. The Couser family and project partners invited guests to see the fields last week, just 20 miles of the Farm Progress Show site near Boone.

Providing information

Attendees ranged from urban dwellers to county and state dignitaries, all looking for more information about modern agriculture.

“It’s a great example of how you can create dialogue between urban and rural and be productive,” Naig said.

And that’s the goal, Bill Couser said.

“We as farmers have all these wonderful ideas and things we want to prove and sort out … We need to go preach to urban people that these are the practices we are doing on the farm today and this is what we’re finding out,” Bill said.

Building on partnerships

The project will build on goals and partnerships, he said.

“My next goal is to put this program together to test water quality and soil health,” he said.

Those tests and results will help the Cousers make changes to their farming practices too, he said.

“I’m very excited about being able to go in front of our urban people someday and say, yes, this is working or, no, we were doing it wrong and now we’re going to change it and fix it.”

Modern technologies and tools will help gather and analyze the data, Tim said.  “We call it the modern ag experience because we’re not standing up here with a pitchfork anymore,” Tim said. “Farmers are cool, farmers are hip. Farmers have new-age technology. Sometimes that technology can be really frustrating. The point is we have all these tools at our disposal. And we’re putting them to use.”



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