A Vision Forward: Leonard Youngblut - Washburn, Iowa

 Black Hawk County farmer, Leonard Youngblut, talks about cover crops on his operation.

Black Hawk County farmer, Leonard Youngblut, talks about cover crops on his operation.

WASHBURN, IOWA - 07/17/2017

Just outside of Washburn, Iowa on a hot, muggy July afternoon Leonard Youngblut drives the blade of his shovel into the ground for what seems like the hundredth time. Pausing for a moment to wipe the sweat from his brow, he decides to return to the truck for a cool drink of water. He has been shoveling for quite some time in the early afternoon sunlight. However, Leonard is no stranger to hard work; he farms hundreds of acres of corn and soybeans in rural Black Hawk County.

Through the sound of crop dusters flying overhead, Leonard begins to talk about his operation. “I’ve always been kind of conservation-minded,” Youngblut says, “I’m more about caring for the land than caring for my pocket because I’m not here for long.” As he walks through his corn, he observes the condition of each plant he touches, feeling the leaves and touching the silk. He stops for a second, turns, and begins talking about where his passion for stewardship began, “You know, my father sold one of the first chisel plows ever made,” he continued on, “I guess since then, it [stewardship] just kind of stuck with me.” Leonard is part of a generation of farmers that have transitioned from the days of moldboard plowing to practices like no-till that leave more residue on the soil surface to prevent erosion and he is proud to be a part of that cultural shift.

 Black Hawk county farmer, Leonard Youngblut, observes the condition of his corn crop.

Black Hawk county farmer, Leonard Youngblut, observes the condition of his corn crop.

Youngblut’s passion is evident in the landscape of his operation. He has been using no-till since the 1980’s and was eager to utilize cover crops after he learned of the advantages they offered his soil profile. He spoke of what first motivated him to try the practice, “We have got to take care of our ground,” he said “We need to start treating the land like a member of our family.” While Youngblut has only been utilizing cover crops on portions of his acreage in recent years, he plans to seed all of them with cover this fall. “I did it fairly cheaply,” Youngblut shared, “It’s not impossible to do.”

In addition to cover crops and no-till, Youngblut has been experimenting with nitrogen management programs through local precision agriculture companies. "I like to put the right amount of nitrogen where it's needed in the field because it helps to build the soil profile," Youngblut said. The program he is using combines yield data and measurements of fertilizer application rates to ensure that each corn plant is getting the precise amount of nutrients that it needs to be productive. This is especially beneficial for the water quality of Miller Creek, which runs through Youngblut's acreage.

There is a fire in Leonard’s eye when he speaks about stewardship and farming that is only evident in people who love what they do. Youngblut recognizes the crucial role that he and other farmers across Iowa fulfill to consumers around the globe. “If we’re going to raise food for the world, we’ve got to have the soil to raise it in.” Youngblut then went on to say, “We need to save it [soil] while we can.” As Leonard pondered the future he paused for a moment, sighed, and said, “There will be farmers after me and I try to think about them.”

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Cody Smith
Communications Intern
Cody.Smith@iowaagriculture.gov