The Iowa Cattlemen’s Association has named the Lynn Smith family of Nemaha as winners of the 2017 Iowa Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP).
The Smiths show a dedication to the environment by being pioneers in Iowa conservation efforts on their diversified livestock and row-crop operation in the heart of the Upper Raccoon River watershed.
Lynn started farming in 1971 and his son, Seth, followed in his footsteps in 2001.
Today, their farm consists of 1,900 acres of row crops, 510 acres of pasture, a 500 head feeder to finish hog barn, 210 cow-calf pairs and a 2,200 head feedlot.
The farm is located in Douglas and Delaware Townships in Sac County, drainage districts targeted in the 2015 Des Moines Water Works lawsuit. But Lynn and Seth’s farm stands in stark contrast to the image of Iowa farmers depicted by the Des Moines Water Works and media.
From their use of conservation tillage beginning in 1977 to more recent feedlot and pasture renovations, their efforts to improve water quality and soil health on their row-crop acres go hand in hand with their expanding cattle operation.
The Smiths are part of a growing group of Iowa cattle producers who are demonstrating that the integration of cattle operations and row-crop farms can be, and should be, a valuable part of the nutrient reduction strategy.
The Smiths, like many other Iowa farmers, represent several generations of the family on the same land. And their goal is to pass the farm on to the next generation. To do so, they must continue to make advances in efficiency and sustainability.
The Smiths’ two feedlot sites have undergone several changes in the past few years with the goal of increased efficiency, animal comfort and environmental stewardship. One of the Smith’s feedlots overlooks the Raccoon River, a visible reminder of the importance of environmental stewardship.
There are several safeguards in place to minimize the chances that manure will reach the river such as a settling basin and dike and lagoon systems. Both solid and liquid manure are utilized as fertilizer on the surrounding fields and each animal provides roughly $47 worth of nutrients for the row-crops.
The Smiths’ combination of rotational grazing and an extended grazing season are a great recipe for success from an environmental health and financial standpoint. Some of the main environmental advantages that come from utilizing rotational and extended grazing are reduction in soil compaction, increased soil fertility, more opportunity for plants to prosper, less forage wasted and efficiently utilizing available forage resources. In addition to the pasture acres, the Smiths are working towards extending their grazing season by utilizing cover crops, corn stalks and small grains.
Changes in land-use have perhaps had the biggest effect on environmental sustainability. As row-crop land is converted to pasture or grassland, nitrogen and phosphorus losses are cut dramatically. Perennial cover through well-managed grazing protects highly-erodible land from erosion, provides a habitat for wildlife and pollinators, and revitalizes soil health.
The challenge for many farmers is the balance between the environment and economics. But the Smiths’ farm is living proof that environmental and economic goals do not have to compete against one-another. Incorporating cattle, whether it’s through a cow-calf operation, feedlot, or both, goes a long way towards meeting both goals.
The integration of all three farm endeavors – row crops, cow-calf and feedlot – have enabled the Smiths to make advances in environmental stewardship and profitability.
The Smiths have dedicated themselves to helping the public understand their overall farming operation, including the environmentally sustainable aspects.
As controversy surrounding the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit has ramped up in Iowa, Seth Smith has actively engaged in the conversation. Some of his efforts include spending time with Bill Stowe, the CEO of the Des Moines Water Works, hosting The Des Moines Register reporters on his farm and participating in media interviews.
Seth has taken this opportunity to show the positive, progressive changes that farmers are already making to improve environmental sustainability and water quality. Recently, the Smiths began supplying ground beef for a local restaurant, The Smokin’ Hereford, in nearby Storm Lake.
Lynn Smith, Seth’s father, is currently on the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association Board of Directors, after serving many years as the Sac County Cattlemen’s Association president. In his role at ICA, he is able to positively influence area cattle producers and serve as a role model for the success of various conservation practices. Lynn and Seth have both served as speakers for local NRCS meetings and demonstrations, sharing their experience with cover crops and conservation.
As Iowa’s ESAP representatives, the Smiths have been nominated for recognition at the regional level, which includes four other states. If they are successful in the regional competition, the Smiths will move on to the national level.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association initiated the environmental award program in 1991 to highlight exceptional work done by cattle producers to protect and enhance the environment. Since its inception, Iowa cattle producers have won 17 regional awards and three national ones.