Conservation Stewards Lead by Example: Louis and Pat Beck - Black Hawk and Tama Counties

Tell us about your operation.

We are third generation farmers and grow approximately 400 acres of corn and soybeans in Black Hawk and Tama counties. We also raise a small herd of meat goats. Our family used to maintain a large farrow to finish swine operation and has always farmed with a strong land ethic. I would consider my father, Donald Beck, as one of the early conservation stewards in our area.

What water quality practices have you used on your farm?

We utilized the young farmer loan program the year the conservation plan came into effect to address our headlands with grassed waterways, contouring and terraces. We went to straight no-till in 2007 which has been successful. More recently, we planted around four acres of pollinator habitat through the CRP program. Working with the Miller Creek Water Quality Improvement Project, we have incorporated cover crops into our operation the past few years. In 2016, we drilled approximately 160 acres of a cereal rye and rapeseed winter-hardy mix. On our Traer farm, we are working with the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) on a cover crop strip trials project. We also participate in the Black Hawk SWCD and ISA edge-of-field evaluation program to monitor nitrate and phosphorus loss from our drainage tile.

Why did you voluntarily adopt these practices?

Anything to improve soil tilth will be beneficial in the long run. We began to see sheet/rill and gully erosion and needed to do something about it. That was our main motivation to go to straight no-till. We then added cover crops to try to improve our soil health and build organic matter. There is also peer pressure in southern Black Hawk County to farm responsibly. Neighbors watch what you are doing and we make sure to do the best job we can. In the late fall of 2015, we hosted a cover crop field day as part of the Miller Creek WQI project to share what we are doing on our farm.

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

Staff at the Waterloo and Toledo NRCS offices, technicians and coordinators with the Black Hawk and Tama County SWCDs and neighboring farmers have provided technical assistance to help incorporate additional conservation activities into our operation. We have utilized CRP, NRCS programs, and district cost-share to assist us in funding various conservation practices. More recently, we have been involved with the Miller Creek WQI project and have taken part in their cost-share opportunities.

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

We feel an obligation to protect the land, and not just for me and my family, but for the future of farming. It is our personal goal to leave the land better than we found it and I try to spread that message to my Ag. Education students and FFA members as well. We also participate in the Envirothon and discuss soil health and water quality throughout the year.

Will Myers