Matt Hauge is the Council’s communications and outreach director.
Talking with other Iowans about what we’re doing to protect our land, water and air is one of the best parts of my job. As I am out traveling or working events for the Council, I have heard enough of your inspiring stories to be absolutely convinced Iowans can solve any environmental challenge we face.
That’s why I was surprised yesterday when a woman approached our booth at the Natural Living Expo and said to me, “You won’t like me.” But why not?
She said she was a trustee for her family’s farmland and was responsible for leasing it out. I was sharing information about nitrogen and phosphorous in Iowa’s rivers and lakes, much of which comes from agricultural sources. She said she had a fiduciary responsibility to maximize her family’s earnings from the land, a responsibility she took seriously. She thought that might mean she and I were in conflict.
So I asked what conservation practices were in place on this farm. Well, she said, they had installed some new grass waterways. She had asked her lessee to use a longer crop rotation and plant soybeans this year, but she explained he is a very large operator and was reluctant to agree to something special on just her family’s land.
I explained to her that not only did I like what she was doing, she might be my favorite person I met all day. I was really grateful she had taken the time to educate me about her situation, and I said her efforts for conservation on her family’s farm really do matter.
The problem we have is that Iowa often fails to help make conservation an attractive choice with underfunded efforts, vague goals, and sometimes, a failure to even consider what benefits additional action would bring.
Too often, we talk about conservation like it is a nice thing to do—but totally optional. In fact, conservation action is quite essential to our state’s future. We must build and maintain our soils (and natural resilience in our communities and landscape) to protect Iowans’ way of life, and to have cleaner water, opportunities for recreation, and habitat for wildlife.
The farm decision maker I met Saturday was asking the right questions and had taken some very important actions. She did the right thing, and we need more of that—much more, I’m sorry to say, if we are going to see meaningfully cleaner water in our rivers and lakes. This is a responsibility all Iowans share. Setting meaningful goals and shifting our thinking about conservation from “optional” to “essential” is a challenge for all of us, in town or on the farm.
We are lucky that many Iowans and organizations are coming together to do good things. Here are some great resources I have found to be helpful:
- First of all, contacting your local Soil and Water Conservation District is always a wise first step.
- The Drake University Agricultural Law Center, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, has produced an outstanding guide to the farm lease process loaded with good tips for incorporating sustainability. This is such an essential resource as the challenges and decisions facing landowners can be daunting.
- A fantastic resource is the Women, Food, and Agriculture Network, which is a community of support for Iowa women who are increasingly active in farm decision-making. Don’t miss information on their upcoming conference.
- Practical Famers of Iowa is a community of farmers on all sorts of farms who share common values of maintaining healthy farms and vibrant communities. Their research is often enlightening.
- The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation stands ready to help landowners design conservation protections for their land that will stand the test of time. If you have never been to a ceremony where landowners and INHF announce new protections of a piece of land, you must go. The pride these Iowans feel for the land they protect is moving.
The friendly people you will meet in these organizations are ready to help all Iowans move forward on protecting our state’s incredible agricultural and natural resources. Have additional resources to share? Please leave a comment below.