One of the best parts of my job is the opportunity to travel across the state to learn about what farmers are doing to raise a healthy crop or livestock. I’ve learned that no two farms are the same, even in the same county or down the same county road. Such was the case when I took a conservation tour in Linn County recently.

The Linn County Farm Bureau and the Linn County Soil and Water Conservation District hosted the tour of four farms near Mount Vernon.

The visit showed that there is way more to farming that producing a crop. It’s about Iowa’s water, keeping the soil and nutrients where they belong, and being a good upstream neighbor.

Each tour stop provided an opportunity for me and others to talk to the farmers and learn about the challenges the farmers face on each of their farms. Farmers talked candidly, answered questions, and helped us to understand why they implemented certain practices on their farm.

During the tour, it was clear that the farmers took it upon themselves to make their farms better. Though many of them received incentives or grants to help complete a project on their farm, there were many projects on the farm — cover crops, terraces, wetlands, etc. — that farmers had implemented without any form of payment.

Stepping up voluntarily

The farmers weren’t complaining about the lack of funding or the lack of attention to their projects, they were simply pointing out what other farmers in the state have also done — voluntarily — to better their land and keep their soil and nutrients in place. The farmers talked of tests like the stalk nitrate test, water testing and others they perform on the farm to make sure they apply just the amount of fertilizer they need.

At Laura Krause’s vegetable farm, she talked about a $10,000 wetland project. It’s two acres of restored prairie and one acre of water. Like row-crop farmers, Krause understands the importance of being a good steward of her farm and her water.

"All the rain that falls on this farm is headed to Abbe Creek, Big Creek, Cedar River, Iowa River, New Orleans," she said. "And once that soil goes into motion, it’s probably not going to stop until it gets down to the Gulf of Mexico. So I like the idea of holding the water back in the upland. I think it’s important."

This tour showed state legislators and others who joined the tour the types of things that Iowa farmers are doing. It’s easy to read about a certain farmer putting a practice in place, but seeing it firsthand leaves quite an impression.

Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett said the tour reinforced the work farmers are doing to protect the water and minimize nutrient and soil loss. "Oftentimes, (I) hear about what farmers are doing on the conservation issue, but to actually see it first-hand was very valuable," Corbett said.

The tour pointed out that farmers are still learning, Corbett said.

"As I was visiting with the individual farmers, (I found that) they’re still learning today, trying to put in the best practices that they possibly can," Corbett said. "Not just the farm community, but the urban community needs to take time to understand the various conservation practices and how they can help with our water issues in the state of Iowa."