Marsden Farms Achieve Conservation Successes in the Walnut Creek Watershed, Red Oak, Iowa

Kent Marsden grew up on a farm north of Red Oak, the same farm he and his wife Leah raised three children and the same farm he lives on today.  Kent graduated from Northwest Missouri State University in 1988 with a degree in business and at the time said he had no intentions of returning to the farm.  In 2000, Kent was tired of working for other companies and decided to be his own boss. He returned to the farm and joined his brother Mike and father Clem in the family farming operation.  Today Kent, Mike, and Mike’s son Corey make up Marsden Farms, a family farming partnership consisting of 2,400 acres of row crop, half owned and half rented, and an eighty four head cow herd.

The Marsden’s have always been conservation minded farmers, something the brothers learned from their father early on in life.  Clem preached to them that if they take care of the land the land would take care of them.  Soil conservation has always been at the top of their list.  They are firm believers in no-till, terraces, and tile as well as having good headlands and waterways.  The Marsden’s build terraces as they can afford them, cost share or no cost share.  They believe it is important to put money back into the land.  Since the Walnut Creek Project began in 2009 the Marsden’s have built 7,600 feet of terraces through the Federal EQIP program and 900 feet on their own within the Walnut Creek watershed. They also have convinced most of their landlords to build terraces as well.  The Marsden’s have built many thousands of feet of terraces outside of the watershed also, last fall they built 8,400 feet.  The Marsden’s have built two grade stabilization waterway outlets through the watershed project as well as two waterways through the CRP program. 

Last year the Marsden’s tried cover crops for the first time.  They aerially applied 155 acres of cereal rye and rapeseed to standing cornstalks.  Kent says this year his bean fields are cleaner with fewer weeds and no ditches.  He planted into the tall rye with no issues with his planter and Mike only had to make a few minor adjustments to his new planter.  Kent says he believes the soil has more moisture during drought conditions also.  This coming fall the Marsden’s plan to fly on 647 acres of cover crops in the watershed and 90 acres outside of the watershed which they are doing on their own.  They also plan graze their cows on the cover crops for the first time this year.

When asked what advice he has for someone just starting in farming and conservation, he said to not be afraid to try different practices and be sure to look at all the opportunities out there.  Don’t farm fencerow to fencerow, leave headlands wide enough to turn on and take care of waterways so they are crossable.  Seed down poorer soils you’re not going to make a profit on.  You likely won’t have money every year to invest in conservation, but when you make a profit off the land make sure and invest some of that money back into the soil. Your land will pay you back.

Will Myers