As a cattleman and row crop farmer on the banks of the North Raccoon River in central Iowa, Justin Robbins has some thoughts on land management and conservation.
“We have to do our part to not let stuff get into the river,” said Robbins. “I can’t fix everything, but I can change what happens on my farm.”
Robbins Land & Cattle, located near Scranton in Greene County, raises about 200 head of purebred Angus each year and grows corn and soybeans, along with hay, oats and cover crops for feed.
In April, the Robbins family, which includes Justin, Lacie and their son McKinley, was named the 2021 Iowa Environmental Stewardship Award Program winner by the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association.
Their field practices include cover crops on about one-half their row crop acres. They also implemented a variety of water management practices to keep nutrients and soil on the fields instead of in the river.
On the cattle side of the operation, Robbins practices rotational grazing in his pastures. He also harvests cover crops for use as feed throughout the year. Coming into the 2021 growing season, he still had several large round bales of his own grass hay left from the previous season.
He has also started seeding oats into low spots in his fields that often get washed out. This helps retain the soil, creates a use for poor producing land and is another feed source for his herd.
“I want to leave the land better today than how I found it yesterday,” Robbins said.
Deep family roots
He has been working land and raising livestock along the Raccoon River his entire life. The home place, where his folks still live, is on the west side of the river about one mile from where he lives now.
In fact, Robbins grew up working on both sides of the river. The Hawn family, who own the land Robbins farms now, hired him to work alongside their son Doug. When he was young, Robbins would ride his bike through the Raccoon River, which normally runs about one foot deep in this section, to get to the Hawn farm.
“Doug was like another father to me. He has been a good partner for a long time,” Robbins said.
Keeping the faith
Faith plays a big part in his family’s life, especially in recent years following the death of their son, Grant.
In 2015, Grant died in an ATV accident on the farm. Robbins said his neighbors and their church community came together to support them during that time and, out of that, he felt led to give back. He had a few head of beef processed and given to friends as a thank you for all they had done for his family.
Following this, several people suggested he start selling his beef. And so, the family’s direct sales business was born.
Direct meat sales
Robbins said he produces about 200 head of cattle a year. Of that, one-half is used for seedstock, while the rest goes to his growing direct meat sales business.
“Last year, the sales side of our business really took off,” he said.
Robbins said it was a divine nudge that allowed him to get his beef processed on time last year.
“A little before things got really crazy last year, I woke up around two in the morning. I looked though my calendar for when my fat cattle would be ready to process and just booked my spots at the locker for the rest of the year. Can’t tell you why I did that, but I think it was God talking to me.”
His beef is processed by Story City Locker in Story City. In addition to quarters, halfs and fulls, Robbins sells meat bundles as well as single cuts. Customers can pick up meat from the Story City Locker, or a lot of times, Robbins will deliver it himself.
When he's not taking care of his herd and his land, Robbins is usually at wrestling meets. McKinley, 16, is a state champion in his weight class and travels all over the U.S. to participate in tournaments and invitational events.