Leaders in Agriculture Conservation: Henry and Meri Kay Shepard - La Porte City, Iowa

Tell us about your operation.

We are a second- generation farm family. We farm approximately 500 acres in Black Hawk and Benton counties in which 230 acres are planted in corn, 230 acres are planted in soybeans and roughly 40 acres are in set aside programs like quail buffers, pollinator habitat and grassed waterways.

What water quality practices have you used on your farm?

We began our no till operation in the mid-1980s and have been using variable rate applications of fertilizer, based on soil tests, for several years. We have split applied our nitrogen with spring anhydrous, a 28% pre-plant, and a late season urea application for about six years. Nitrification inhibitors are used in conjunction with the anhydrous and urea applications.

We installed terraces, grassed waterways, buffers and pollinator habitat acres that were strategically placed across our farms to alleviate erosion and runoff concerns. Cover crops have become an important practice in our operation since 2014. Working with the Miller Creek WQI Project, we experimented with a four-species mix of cover crops on about 50 acres in 2014. In 2015 and 2016, we made the decision to plant all tillable acres with cover crops. During this time, we experimented with various application methods including a highboy applicator, aerial seeding, and drilling after our cash crops are harvested. Some of the different cover crop species we trialed include annual ryegrass, cereal rye, oats, radish, rapeseed, and crimson clover.

Working with Iowa State University and USDA-ARS, we installed the second saturated buffer in the watershed. This buffer is being utilized as a research site and has served as a helpful demonstration project. This past summer, Lt. Governor Reynolds visited the site as part of a tour of Miller Creek.

Why did you voluntarily adopt these practices?

Our primary goals for adopting these practices include the following:

·        Increase Soil Organic Matter

·        Retain Soil Nutrients

·        Reduce Soil Erosion

·        Improve Wildlife Habitat

·        Protect Water Quality  

What, if any, assistance did you receive to incorporate these practices (financial as well as technical)?

We received the following assistance with incorporating conservation into our operation from the following groups and programs:

·        Technical assistance from Waterloo NRCS and Black Hawk SWCD

·        Water Quality Initiative (Miller Creek WQI)

·        Environmental Quality Incentives Program

·        Conservation Stewardship Program

·        Regional Conservation Partnership Program (Middle Cedar Partnership Project)

·        Conservation Reserve Program

What is your philosophy as it relates to farming and the environment?

We understand farming and its potential environmental impacts. We have always focused on protecting the soil. Working with the Miller Creek WQI Project the past three years has opened our eyes to the significance of water quality and soil health.

There is only so much soil out there and we do not want to lose what can be used by future generations. We try to do the right things and hope to leave the ground better than we found it.

Will Myers