By JASON JOHNSON
When Brent and Teresa Voss moved to rural Dexter in 1994, they viewed it as more of a place to settle their concrete and foundation business than to develop a large farming operation. But that soon changed. Just a week after buying their home property, they bought a nearby 80 acres of farmland.
Nearly two decades later the couple still has their booming concrete business — Voss Concrete Inc. — and a farming operation with 2,000 acres of crop, hay and pastureland, as well as 300 cows and between 500 to 1,000 feeder cattle.
Brent grew up on a family farm in Oskaloosa, but it wasn’t until he began raising livestock in Dallas County when he gained a better understanding of land stewardship and well-managed livestock.
After years of working with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to implement a complete conservation plan on his farm, Brent was awarded a Conservation Stewardship Program contract in 2010 on nearly 1,500 cropland and 262 pasture acres. Under CSP, NRCS pays participants for conservation performance — the higher the operational performance, the higher the payment.
• Central Iowa farm follows comprehensive plan to protect soil and water.
• Part of the farm is on historic land next to a river that’s prone to flooding.
• This often-flooded land is being put into a permanent conservation easement.
CSP is voluntary and encourages producers to address resource concerns in a comprehensive manner. Landowners agree to undertake additional conservation activities and improve, maintain and manage existing conservation practices. Brent is implementing a suite of practices to address wildlife habitat, soil erosion, water quality and pasture management.
Cover crops save soil
Through CSP, Brent planted cover crops on 75 acres of cropland and is making changes to how he harvests hay to allow wildlife to flush and escape. “NRCS district conservationist Brad Harrison has been really good at providing advice on how to better the land,” says Brent.
A few years earlier, the Voss family used financial and technical assistance through NRCS and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to install three new hoop buildings to house livestock. “We’ve learned a lot from NRCS about how to properly manage and take care of livestock in an environmentally friendly way,” he says.
Hoop buildings also provide a healthier environment for growth, and aid in animal handling, manure management, feeding and ventilation. They eliminate the need for sediment basins, or holding ponds, reducing odor and potential groundwater contamination. In addition, hoop buildings provide more comfortable conditions than an open feedlot, which often leads to healthier and more productive cattle.
Voss is also storing and applying manure in a more environmentally friendly way, thanks to a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan, which is required of all new livestock facilities installed with EQIP financial assistance. His CNMP includes his entire farm.
“Implementing all of these new conservation practices and strategies has been an education for me,” says Brent. “It has helped our farming operation. It has been exciting and fun learning, and at the same time I feel good about being a better steward of the land.” For more about NRCS conservation programs in Iowa, see www.ia.nrcs.usda.gov or visit your local NRCS.
Johnson writes for NRCS in Iowa.
Permanent conservation easement
Brent Voss is retiring 14 acres of Dallas County cropland that is perhaps best known as the former location of a popular entertainment park and later a famous Bonnie and Clyde shootout in the 1930s. The land will be seeded to native plants and grasses following years of constant flooding.
Voss bought the property in 2000 to grow corn and soybeans. The land was row-cropped for most of the last 75 years, but Voss says the quick-rising, fast-moving Raccoon River leaves behind tree debris and sand deposits when it leaves its banks. “I spent thousands of dollars cleaning out everything that gets deposited there. It was costing me more than what I was making off of it, for sure.”
Voss used the Emergency Watershed Protection Program-Floodplain Easements to restore the land to its natural state. Restoration work, which will take place later this year on the easement, includes planting native grasses, mixed to fit the local ecosystem. The EWP-FPE is administered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. “The goal is to allow floodwater into the restored floodplain, allowing it to slowly recede back into the waterbody without causing damage to the environment or infrastructure,” says Larry Beeler, Iowa NRCS assistant state conservationist for programs.
Beeler says the restored floodplain will generate increased flood protection, enhanced fish and wildlife habitat, improved water quality and a reduced need for future public disaster assistance. Other benefits include reduced energy consumption when certain ag activities and practices are eliminated, and increased carbon sequestration as permanent vegetative cover is re-established.“Putting that farm in the [EWP-FPE] program is the best thing for that river bottom,” says Voss.
The EWP-FPE easement deed allows Voss to manage the land with such habitat management practices as mowing and potentially prescribed burning, but he cannot build any infrastructure there or plant crops on the easement property. “Most landowners use the retired cropland for hunting and fishing, or other recreational activities like bird watching,” says Brad Harrison, NRCS district conservationist in Dallas County.
This article published in the March, 2012 edition of WALLACES FARMER.
All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.