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Soil-saving efforts add up

Southern Iowa farmers Rick and Joy Jackson of Weldon are a good example of how a small farm can make a positive impact on the environment through the use of soil and water conservation practices. They farm in Decatur County and were recognized as 2010 Rathbun Lake Protectors by the Rathbun Land and Water Alliance for reducing soil loss and protecting Rathbun Lake.

“It’s not a big farm, but we want to take care of it,” says Rick. Through the RLWA’s Protect Rathbun Lake Project, the Jacksons qualified for 75% cost share to install conservation practices on their 200-acre family farm. The farm has been in the family since the 1940s, and Rick says it’s important to them to care for the land as his parents, Dick and Darlene, did before passing it on to them.

Rick says looking at the farm’s abstracts dating back to the last century made an impact on him. “You can’t take it with you, so someone else will have it long after we’re gone, just as those who farmed it before us,” he notes.

The Jacksons over the years installed more than 9,000 feet of terraces resulting in an annual reduction in sediment delivery to Rathbun Lake of 154 tons and 847 pounds of phosphorus. The Jacksons’ conservation practices also include no-till farming and grass waterways.

Using a targeted approach

Velvet Buckingham, environmental specialist with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s Division of Soil Conservation, coordinates the Protect Rathbun Lake Project at the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Corydon. She says the conservation practices installed by the Jacksons show the benefits of using a targeting approach to erosion control. “Knowing where to install soil-saving practices is key to the success of reducing contaminant delivery to Rathbun Lake,” says Buckingham. “GIS technology is used to identify priority land, which is land most likely to suffer soil loss if left untreated. That soil then travels from the field to Rathbun Lake, carrying with it sediment and other contaminants.”

Rathbun Lake is the water source for Rathbun Regional Water Association and provides drinking water for 80,000 people in southern Iowa and northern Missouri. Conservation actions by the Jacksons contribute to the overall annual reduction totals since RLWA began working to protect the lake, resulting in nearly 31,000 tons of sediment and more than 133,000 pounds of phosphorus.

Supporters of forage crops

The couple had a spraying business between 1972 and 1995. During that time, Rick says he watched as fields rich with black soil were replaced by gullies and ruts that developed by the rapid loss of soil. “We may say it’s our soil, but it really isn’t ours,” says Rick. “We are just renting it from future generations.”

Eight years ago the Jacksons began a commercial hay grinding business, starting with one grinder. The business has grown to three machines, and employs three full-time and two part-time employees serving nearly 800 customers. “In addition to taking care of the farm, we are busy grinding hay all the way down to the Kansas City area,” says Rick.

The couple has two daughters; Molly Jackson is a junior at Iowa State University, and Joni Readout teaches in a local school district. Joy takes care of bookkeeping for the family’s commercial hay business and also works off the farm at a local bank.

Chester writes for RLWA.

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LAKE PROTECTORS: Joy and Rick Jackson, who farm in Decatur County and run a hay grinding business, were recently honored for their conservation efforts to help protect Rathbun Lake.

This article published in the April, 2011 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.