Jared Herbert | Dickinson County

by Dirck Steimel

Farming and conservation have always gone hand-in-hand for Jared Herbert, who grows corn and soybeans near Lake Park in Dickinson County. In his 30-plus years of farming, Herbert has constantly searched for new and better methods to reduce soil erosion, trim nutrient loss from his fields, guard water quality in local streams and nearby Silver Lake, and improve wildlife habitat. And the Dickinson County Farm Bureau member has put conservation into action on his farm.

Q. What water quality practices do you use on your farm? 
A. Herbert was an early adopter of no-till and strip-till farming practices on his rolling fields near the Minnesota border. He has installed terraces, filter strips, water and sediment-control basins. A few years ago he began planting cover crops, using aerial applications to improve the chances the seed can germinate before the northern Iowan winter sets in. He also plants food plots for deer, pheasants and other wildlife.

This fall, Herbert will take another conservation step and install a bio-reactor, a device designed to capture nutrients from water flowing through tile lines. The bio-reactor, which will be filled with wood chips, will filter water leaving his farm and flowing into a drainage ditch that runs through his property and eventually into Silver Lake.

The bio-reactor, Herbert be­­lieves, will significantly reduce the potential for nitrates and other nutrients to leave his fields and end up in the lake. 

Q. Why did you voluntarily adopt these practices?
A. Focusing on conservation and water quality on his own farm just makes sense for the 62-year-old farmer. “It’s just the right thing to do,” Herbert said. “I think everybody’s goal should be to leave things better than when they started, and that’s what I’ve tried to do. Every year I try to learn things about conservation and get better at it.”

Q. What, if any, assistance (financial as well as technical) did you receive to employ these practices?
A. Over the years, the Herberts have enrolled their steeper and more erodible acres in Conservation Reserve program (CRP), the Environmental Quality Incentives program (EQIP) and other programs designed to reduce erosion, improve water quality and add wildlife habitat.

State conservation winner Her­­b­ert is a strong believer in cost-share programs, which can help offset some of the expense of installing practices to save soil and improve water quality. “Cost-share programs are really what makes the conservation programs work,” he said. “They are really important because they enable people to try these things without putting their farms at so much risk.”

Q. What is your environmental philosophy as it relates to your farming operation?
A. Herbert has served as a Dick­inson County Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioner and has long been active in Pheasants Forever. He’s hosted field days on no-till farming and cover crops. And Herbert is a founding member of the Silver Lake Park Improvement Association, a group formed to improve water quality in the community and build local support for conservation practices.

That continuous dedication to conservation has earned Herbert the 2013 Iowa Conservation Farmer of the Year award, which is sponsored by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. The award — which was presented to Herbert and his wife, Mary, at a ceremony on Sept. 5 in West Des Moines — highlights the continuous voluntary conservation improvements made by farmers all over Iowa.

“It’s really not something we sought out, but it’s nice for our work to be recognized,” Herbert said about the state award. “We all need to keep improving our conservation practices and doing more.”

Along with the statewide award, the Herberts also won one of the state’s regional soil conservation awards, which was presented at the Sept. 5 ceremony.

Farmers Stepping Up
The wide range of conservation measures installed by this year’s conservation award winners around the state are a good indication that Iowa farmers are volunteering to implement practices from the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, said Rick Robinson, IFBF environmental policy advisor. “These awards show that across Iowa, farmers are stepping up to do more to protect Iowa’s natural resources while producing food and fuel for a growing world population.”

Building Ponds
They are especially proud of the six ponds they have built on their farm, which have helped to beautify the farm while working to control nutrient and sediment loss. Around the ponds, the Herberts have planted native grasses, including big bluestem, Indian grass and others, which help provide habitat for wildlife and migrating species.

“We really like to come out here on the ATV to enjoy the wildlife and butterflies that are attracted to the area around the ponds,” said Mary Herbert, who recently retired from a career in nursing in nearby Worthington, Minn.

Regional Winners
Other 2013 regional winners and their hometowns are:

  • Region 1: J. Maassen and Sons, Maurice
  • Region 3: Kay Connelly, Cedar Falls
  • Region 4: Don Jr. and Shelly Sieck, Fayette
  • Region 5: David Doud, operator of Ross Morgan Residuary Trust, Stuart
  • Region 7: David Bastian, Victor
  • Region 8: Robert and Ruby Smith family, Leon
  • Region 9: Charles and Jim Pilling, Mediapolis
Alex Rausch