Boggs paragon of lake protectors

Joe and Joanie Boggs of Weldon were selected as Rathbun Lake Protectors by the Rathbun Land and Water Alliance several years ago for their actions to protect Rathbun Lake, the water source for 80,000 people in southern Iowa and northern Missouri. They continue to help carry out the mission of saving soil and protecting water quality.

The annual award recognizes landowners in the lake’s watershed who participate in the alliance’s Protect Rathbun Lake Project for their past, present and future soil and water conservation work. The Boggs’ partnership with the alliance began in 2006, but they practiced soil conservation many years before, being recognized as Rathbun Lake Protectors in 2007.

Key Points

Rathbun Lake is the water source for a large rural water system in southern Iowa.

Landowners are encouraged to practice soil conservation to protect water quality.

Protect Rathbun Lake Project works with farmers and landowners in this effort.

The couple has farmed in Decatur County for 43 years. Joe was a 14-year-old high school freshman when he rented his first 40 acres from family members. Joanie brought three head of cattle to the marriage when they started out years ago. Since then, their farm has grown from those first 20 acres of corn and 20 acres of soybeans to 300 acres of each today. They also maintain a cattle herd they graze on 100 acres of pasture.

Bigger is not always better

Bigger doesn’t always mean better in terms of size of farm operation. Joe started farming with his father and continued to do so until his dad’s passing earlier this year. “We farm five farms: two in Decatur County and three in Clarke County.

Families were living on all of them when we started, but now it’s just us,” says Joe. “We decided instead of growing larger and renting more ground we would rather improve the land and make what we already had more productive.” Joanie agrees, “We’ve lived and farmed in the same location long enough to see the damage soil erosion does.”

Velvet Buckingham is an environmental specialist with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s Division of Soil Conservation. DSC coordinates the Protect Rathbun Lake Project and says the nearly 9,000 feet of terraces installed by the Boggs family through the project reduces sediment delivery to the lake by 160 tons of sediment and 720 pounds of phosphorus per year.

“Since the project began in 2004, the action taken by landowners in the watershed has reduced the annual sediment delivery to Rathbun Lake by 31,000 tons,” says Buckingham. “We are a third of the way to the project’s goal of treating 30,000 acres of priority land, and it’s just not possible without the partnership of landowners like the Boggs.”

To date, participating landowners have contributed $3 million through their portion of the funds needed to install the soil-saving practices. The 75% cost share offered through the Protect Rathbun Lake Project is attractive, but Joe says the installed terraces offered something even more valuable: time savings.

“Not having to go back and fix ditches every year is a big time saver,” notes Joe. “Plus, it’s easier to farm the terraces than it is to farm grassed waterways, although there is certainly a need for both depending on a farm’s conservation plan. It’s a good feeling to see properly installed and well-maintained terraces and grassed waterways working the way they should. The soil doesn’t run downstream anymore.”

Joe bought his first dozer 20 years ago, about 14 years before being involved in the Protect Rathbun Lake Project. He says he’s been using it to make improvements to his land every year since. “I usually try to do one land improvement every year.”

Do-it-yourself conservation

“Joe represents a growing number of landowners who have their own earth-moving equipment so they can do their own soil conservation work, installing and maintaining practices as their time and farming schedule permits,” says Buckingham. When you do it yourself, “you can make sure the job gets done in a timely fashion.”

Jerry Parsons, a soil conservation technician with the Decatur County Soil and Water Conservation District, designed nearly all of the soil-saving structures for the Boggs’ farms, and Joe completed his own construction work. “One of Joe’s first dozer projects was the pond he built 18 years ago that’s right outside our house,” says Joanie, with pride.

Buckingham says the Boggs plan to construct nearly 2,000 more feet of terraces.

Chester writes for the Rathbun Land and Water Alliance.

The Rathbun Lake watershed is located in the six southern Iowa counties of Appanoose, Clarke, Decatur, Lucas, Monroe and Wayne, and covers 364,000 acres.

The Protect Rathbun Lake Project has worked with 500 landowners to complete conservation practices since 2004. For more information, visit the Rathbun Land and Water Alliance at


LAKE PROTECTORS: Decatur County farmers Joe and Joanie Boggs of Weldon are caring for the land. Their soil conservation efforts set a good example, as they participate in the Protect Rathbun Lake Project.

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

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.