Few couples have had as much of an impact on Iowa agriculture as Bill and Nancy Couser. They operate Couser Cattle Co. at Nevada in central Iowa, finishing approximately 6,000 head of cattle, while farming several thousand acres of corn, soybeans, seed corn and alfalfa. Over the years, they’ve used their farm and strong leadership skills to demonstrate advances in modern agriculture to fellow farmers, consumers and government officials.
At the annual meeting of the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association in December, the Cousers were inducted into the Iowa Cattlemen’s Hall of Fame.
The Cousers, with their proximity to Iowa State University, have offered their farm for research purposes many times. Working with engineers from ISU, they installed concrete settling basins at the edge of the feedlots, leading into vegetative treatment areas. Water quality data was harvested over several years, while tweaks were made to the system.
This successful experiment helped the Cousers become NCBA’s 2010 National Environmental Stewardship Award winners. Minimizing the environmental impact of the farm has always been a priority, and reducing runoff, using cover crops, improving feed efficiency and using ethanol coproducts in the rations have created a cumulative effect over the years.
Bill served as a driving force in developing Lincoln Way Energy, a 50 million-gallon, local-investor-owned ethanol plant built in 2006 in Story County. He recognized the beneficial connection between raising corn, producing ethanol, feeding dried distillers grain to cattle and fertilizing fields with manure.
Never a stranger to environmental regulators, the Cousers have developed strong relationships with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over the years. While many farmers try to avoid visits from those two agencies, the Cousers have willingly invited them to the farm many times, most recently hosting the EPA administrator in 2017.
Bill has been active in the Animal Agriculture Discussion Group with EPA. The group was established in 2013 with a goal of collaborating to enhance water quality protection through voluntary partnerships, instead of through regulatory measures.
In addition to serving on the Iowa Beef Industry Council board over the years, Nancy has had her own positive impact on Iowa’s environmental regulations. She recently finished her term on Iowa’s Environmental Protection Commission. The EPC is a panel of nine residents representing specific business sectors who provide policy oversight over Iowa's environmental protection efforts.
It is helpful to have cattle producers serve on the commission, she notes. With the role of the EPC tied closely to the Iowa DNR, the group’s decisions often have bearing on production agriculture.
The Cousers’ involvement in these environmental issues over the years has built relationships within the DNR and EPA, leading some in those organizations to view cattle producers as partners in environmental protection, rather than enemies.
In addition to the National Environmental Stewardship Award, the Cousers were recipients of the National Beef Quality Assurance award. BQA works to protect consumer confidence in the beef supply through a set of management practices intended to protect animal welfare, herd health and beef quality.
The Cousers not only use BQA practices daily on their farm, but also take part in BQA research and host trainings. In 2010, a study on injection site lesions took place on the farm, and the four steers used in the study were donated by the Cousers.
The farm is frequently visited by students from the ISU College of Veterinary Medicine, as well as undergraduates at ISU and local FFA and 4-H groups. BQA trainings take place on the farm regularly.
Bill’s dedication to animal health and welfare was also evident when he served as vice chair of NCBA’s Cattle Health and Well-being Committee. That group covers topics such as domestic and foreign animal diseases, animal health research, and antibiotic use.
Promoting beef to consumers
Nancy served on the Iowa Beef Industry Council board, helping to guide the checkoff investment to promote beef. As a trained nurse, her background in health helped inform consumers about the nutritional benefits of eating beef.
In addition, the farm has been host to many “foodies” over the years, with food bloggers from around the U.S. visiting to learn about how cattle are raised and how to cook beef. A meeting room overlooks the cornfields and provides a perfect opportunity to educate consumers.
Bill and Nancy Couser’s hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed over the years. In addition to the Iowa Master Farmer award, the National Beef Quality Assurance Award, the National Environmental Stewardship Award, and a feature in Time magazine as one of “10 People Who Mattered in 2006,” the Cousers can now add “Iowa Cattlemen’s Hall of Fame” to their resumes.
The Iowa Cattlemen’s Association represents 9,000 beef-producing families and associated companies dedicated to the future of Iowa’s beef industry. ICA’s mission is “Grow Iowa’s beef business through advocacy, leadership and education.”