Sometimes, getting an older generation to go along with new ideas and ways of farming can be a challenge. This is not a problem for West Pottawattamie County Farm Bureau member Kelby Vorthmann on his family’s row crop and cattle operation.

Family support

“A lot of credit for what we’ve done here goes to my dad, Kirk,” Vorthmann said March 24. “He has been open to the changes and helped a lot.”

Over the last 20 years, Kirk and his sons, Kelby and Wade, have implemented a variety of conservation and water quality efforts on their farm.

Working together, the family has been practicing no-till on their acres for more than 20 years. They terraced fields and installed tile lines throughout the property. They also have retention ponds to hold runoff in a bid to slow the movement of water off the fields.

“The flood of ’99 really opened our eyes to a lot of things,” Vorthmann said. That year, heavy rains caused a creek on their property to rise quickly and threaten their house. “Since then, our goal has really been to keep the water in the fields.”

Successful efforts 

In recent years, they have also incorporated a cereal rye cover crop on their fields going from corn to soybeans each year. 

In addition to water improvements, the Vorthmanns have also been able to cut back on fertilizer costs by strip-tilling their acres, maximizing the plant’s access to nutrients and limiting runoff in the process.

“I think we’ve cut back on phosphate by 25% to 30% this way. It also helps with nitrogen and anhydrous,” Vorthmann said. 

For this work, the family was honored last year with the Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award, presented by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the governor’s office.

Award winners

“It’s nice to be recognized for the work we’ve done these last few years,” Vorthmann said.

Since the creation of the Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award in 2012, more than 650 Iowa farm families have been recognized.

According to IDALS, these farm families use scientifically proven practices like cover crops, wetlands, bioreactors and saturated buffers that support the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The recipients recognize the benefits of conservation practices extend beyond their fields to residents downstream, and their leadership encourages others to adopt similar conservation practices.

“For generations, Iowa farmers have led in conservation efforts and continue to be excellent stewards of the land,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said last year. 

“They go above and beyond improving water quality and soil health, serving as a model for others to follow. The 2021 Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Awards is one way we say thank you and recognize farmers for all they do.”