Foss Farms | Eastern Iowa

Written / Submitted By: Shane Wulf - NRCS Waterloo, IA

Q. Tell us about your operation.
A. We are a 4th and 5th generation family farm in Black Hawk, Benton, and Tama Counties. On our farm we raise corn and soybeans on approximately 1,900 acres of cropland.

Q. What water quality practice have you used on your Farm?
A. We incorporated strip-till and no-till into our operations over 15 years ago to reduce soil erosion and save valuable time on the farm. Strip-till prior to corn and no-till prior to soybeans are now used on 100% of our cropped acres. Cover crops are a conservation practice we began trying two years ago on approximately 150 acres of ground. Cover crop mixes we have experimented with include cereal rye, radish, annual ryegrass and rapeseed. In order to maximize growth of our cover crops we understood we had to get the seed out there prior to harvest. The two different application methods used to achieve this goal include aerial seeding with an airplane and broadcasting with a converted Hagie high-clearance seeder. Nitrification inhibitors have been added to all fall-applied anhydrous prior to corn for the past five years. Maintenance of established grassed waterways and terraces has been a priority on the farm for many years. Working with the Miller Creek Water Quality Improvement Project and the Black Hawk County NRCS, we also plan to install a denitrifying bioreactor in the spring of 2016.

Q. Why did you voluntarily adopt these practices?
A. We strive to be good stewards of the land and make it a goal to leave the land in better shape than when we started farming it. Improving soil health and increasing soil organic matter will not only clean the water that leaves the fields but has the potential to benefit us economically too. After participating in the water monitoring program offered by the Black Hawk Soil and Water Conservation District, we have seen nearly a 50% reduction in nitrogen coming off of one of our fields where cover crops were planted. We plan to continue participation in the monitoring program and are interested in seeing if the nitrogen retained would be available to the corn. 

Q. What, if any, assistance did you receive to incorporate these practices (financial as well as technical)?
A. We received technical and financial cost-share from the local NRCS field office to help reconstruct damaged grassed waterways on many of our fields. Working with the Miller Creek and Benton/Tama Water Quality Initiative Projects, we received technical assistance and cost-share to help alleviate costs associated with our cover crops.

Q. What is your philosophy as it relates to farming and the environment?
A. Our philosophy as it relates to farming and the environment is that if we take care of the ground, it will take care of us. Keeping the topsoil we are blessed with in Iowa is vital to future generations of farmers and we are working hard to ensure it happens. Working with the Miller Creek Water Quality Improvement Project, we hosted a Soil Health Field Day back in June to help spread this message to other farmers and landowners in the area.