On the eve of Earth Day last week, the Iowa Cattlemen's Association named a Diagonal farm family as ICA's 2011 Environmental Stewardship Award Program winners. Diagonal is in Ringgold County in southwest Iowa.
Jim and Ann Werner, along with their extended family, have worked for more than 30 years to restore numerous ponds, wildlife habitat and quality pastures for their cattle operation in the southwest corner of Iowa.
This year's theme for Earth Day is 'A Billion Acts of Green.' "Perhaps the Werners haven't performed a billion acts, but their work through the years has saved tons of soil and protected Iowa's waters from sedimentation, the largest water quality problem in the Midwest," says ICA president Ross Havens of Wiota, about the ESAP winners
Gullies were sometimes big enough to swallow a combine
In the early 1970s, many pasture acres in southern Iowa were converted to row crops. "Soil erosion became prevalent, and much of the land we acquired for our farm operation had been cropped extensively," recalls Jim Werner. "Gullies and ditches had formed in the fields, and sometimes they were large enough to swallow a combine!"
"Southern Iowa is highly suitable to cattle production. By converting cropland to grass and pasture, we were able to heal the scars of erosion," he says. "One of our main goals is to keep the soil on the farm."
On average, each U.S. cattle farmer has 13 different practices in place to accomplish goals such as preventing erosion, protecting water quality, and nurturing wildlife. The Werners are above average.
They try to build a new pond each year, because system works
They've installed 14 ponds over the past 30 years on the rolling hills of their Ringgold County farm where they have a 400-head beef herd. "We've designed and installed watering systems on the new ponds we built," explains Werner. "We try to build a new pond every year because the system works well with our rotational grazing system."
The Werners have worked with district conservationists and government programs in order to put the conservation pieces in place. For example, the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service worked with the Werners to design eight sediment basins on the farm. NRCS also provided some cost share and design assistance for ponds, fences and water tanks.
Additionally, this cattle producing family has:
• Placed 331 acres into an EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program) contract which included clearing scrub brush from the land, building four ponds with watering systems, and seeding pastures and installing fencing to create eight paddocks.
• Installed buffer strips along Crooked Creek and built approximately one and a half miles of fence.
• Enrolled 205 acres of retiring CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) ground into GRP (Grasslands Reserve Program). This included building five-and-a-half miles of 5-barb fence, installing five ponds with watering systems, laying a half-mile of water pipe, clearing brush and inter-seeding clover. This created 10 paddocks for rotational grazing.
• Prevented wind and water erosion on corn acres they chop for silage by no-tilling rye into the stubble in the fall.
• Practice stockpiling pastures and hay ground for winter grazing. This saves fuel that would be used for hauling forages and spreading manure. The stockpiled forage also prevents soil and wind erosion throughout the dry summer and fall months
While saving soil has been their environmental goal, "Our economic goal is to sustain and grow the cattle operation to provide a livelihood for the next generation," says Ann Werner, who points to their four grown children and their families who are all involved in the farm and business in one form or another.
The family also manages wildlife resources. Wildlife abounds - deer, turkey, pheasant, quail, duck, goose, coyote, raccoon, and rabbits can all be seen over the 1900 acres owned and managed by the Jim and Ann Werner Family Angus operation.
The Werners join 21 others Iowa cattle producers who have been selected as state ESAP winners since 1991. Of those, 13 have gone on to be regional winners, and 3 national winners. ESAP is an initiative of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and National Cattlemen's Foundation, NRCS, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Dow AgroSciences, LLC.
About the Iowa Cattlemen's Association: The Iowa Cattlemen's Association represents 9,600 beef-producing families and associated companies dedicated to the future of Iowa's beef industry. ICA's mission is "Grow Iowa's beef business through advocacy, leadership and education."