He Was Growing Cover Crops Before Covers Were Cool

Iowa Farm Scene

Iowa lost one of its pioneers in sustainable agriculture, Dick Thompson, co-founder of Practical Farmers of Iowa, who died Aug. 17 at age 81.

Published on: August 27, 2013

Thompson helped the Leopold Center at ISU become a reality, says Kallem. "Dick became an example of the kind of non-political but very scientific way of approaching ag research that worked with the land, which was in-tune with the kind of stewardship ethic that most of our religions teach. It became the land ethic which prepared the groundwork for the Leopold Center to be established."

Thompson's on-farm research and quest for farming sustainability is based on replicated, randomized test strips

In 1987, Dick's farm was profiled in the landmark book, Alternative Agriculture, published by the National Research Council. The council reported on the role of alternative farming methods in production agriculture and was chaired by John Pesek, who for many years was head of the agronomy department at Iowa State University. Thompson kept meticulous records, conducting numerous trials and collaborating with university researchers. He led by example and shared his findings at field days. He preferred the term "alternative" rather than "sustainable" agriculture because alternative was less threatening. He called his alternative ag system "just another way to farm."

At his PFI field days and when giving presentations, Dick Thompson explained his reason for doing the on-farm testing: "Using replicated and randomized test strips that run the length of the field and are farmer-manageable has helped us to determine what practices are right for this farm. Every farm is different; you cannot buy the answers in a bag. What we share is the research from our farm; others have to decide what is doable for their farms."

At the end of his field days or at the end of one of his talks explaining his research results, Dick Thompson frequently added, "That's the latest word, but not the last word." In the future, you'll be hearing more from PFI about Dick's research and how others are continuing it. Go to the PFI website.