Traveling along the Mississippi River on an extended canoe expedition, one becomes mindful of the importance of clean water. According to the Department of Natural Resources, you’ve got point and non-point pollution. It’s the non-point that the DNR is concerned about, generally attributed to agriculture – farmers with heavy soil loss.
I spoke with fifth-generation Farmersburg, Iowa farmer Jason Klinge about the importance of clean water and what his farm is doing about it – which turns out to be quite a bit. Jason and his son Jordan turned their farm organic and in so doing are raising their cattle chemical-free on grass as opposed to grain.
“What I’m trying to do is mimic what the buffalo did when they grazed,” explained Jason, moving his cattle from paddock to paddock, letting them eat the natural grass while trampling a combination of their own manure and excess grass directly into the soil – a strategy which many observers say is responsible for the quality of Iowa’s once legendary wild-prairie soil.
Jason showed me one of five sinkholes on his property which is believed to go directly into the local water supply. He also showed me a 1948 copy of The Yearbook of Agriculture which underscored multiple studies by the Department of Agriculture in 1930 that concluded “From clean-tilled crops … the average soil loss over a period ranging from 6 to 11 years amounted to 42.10 tons an acre annually,” going on to explain, “In contrast, from the same kind of land on the same stations, the corresponding losses from grassed fields were only 0.08 of a ton of soil an acre.”
“We all depend on the farmer to care for [the] soil,” explained Teresa Opheim, Executive Director of Ames-based Practical Farmers of Iowa. “From a policy perspective,” continued Teresa, “what … needs to happen is that we reward farmers for the stewardship benefits that they provide.”
One of a handful of local farmers that helped write The Conservation Stewardship Program to accomplish just this is Greg Koether, a cattle rancher from McGregor, Iowa, who talked about the importance of clean water and how this fits into the Green Payment Program (aka Conservation Stewardship Program), a program that both he and Jason Klinge now benefit from.
“That’s one of the results we’re trying to achieve in conservation,” explained Greg. “Clean water – clean water that never leaves our farms, clean water that runs off in a heavy rain event that has been purified, or clean water that we’re drinking – water that is seeping through our soils – being filtered, chemical free, and improving our drinking water.”