After Graduating from high school in 1954, Gordon Wassenaar began farming with his dad and has been farming the homeplace south of Prairie City ever since.
Acting as a farmer-ambassador, he has hosted thousands of visitors from more than 70 countries on his farm to tell the story of agriculture.
In 2011 he was awarded the U.S. Grains Council Lifetime Achievement Award for his influential and tireless work.
“Gordon is well-read and understands agriculture and the issues we face,” says Pam Johnson, a member of the Iowa Master Farmer Class of 2017, who nominated him for this year’s award. “An ardent conservationist, Gordon has been no-tilling for more than 25 years and continues to learn and teach fellow farmers from his experience. He has a keen perspective on the world and what it takes to feed the world.”
Living just a half-hour from Des Moines, Wassenaar has hosted trade teams from all over the world for the last 30 years. For more than a decade, his farm had an agricultural “United Nations” gathering during World Food Prize week each fall. For the past several years, he’s hosted more than 100 international visitors during World Pork Expo.
Contributes time, knowledge
Wassenaar has served in leadership roles with commodity groups and boards. He’s been president of the Iowa Soybean Association, chaired the Iowa Corn Promotion Board, and served on the American Soybean Association board of directors and on the biotech committee of the National Corn Growers Association.
He was on the Iowa Ag State committee. Last spring, he was elected and now serves as a Jasper County Soil and Water Conservation District commissioner. He served on the Prairie City Co-op board, beginning 40 years ago.
Involvement in community and commodity group activities takes time and effort. Wassenaar’s philosophy: “It’s not only how much per acre you produce, it’s also having a market for your product. To help build markets is how I became involved. The world wants to eat better and feed hungry people; American farmers can help meet that need.”
“Gordon believes in responsibility, to help agriculture move forward and to also give back,” Johnson says.
Wassenaar now farms in partnership with the next generation of farmers, working with Will and Cassie Cannon, helping these two young farmers get started. A quiet and humble man, he has encouraged other farmers to be leaders and has shown them the way.
Wassenaar never married. Over the years, he’s always had at least one employee. At harvest and planting, he hired part-time help. He’s been no-till farming since 1992 and using cover crops since 2012, mostly in a corn-bean rotation.
When his dad was alive, Wassenaar says, “We had cattle. Raising corn and soybeans has been my specialty.” He has had corn and soybean variety test plots for 40 years, gathering information on how different corn hybrids and soybean varieties yield on his farm, in his conditions. His variety selection is field by field.
A neighbor, Dean Taylor, grew up watching Wassenaar farm, looking to him as an innovator by trying new ideas.
Taylor says, “Gordon plans ahead, keeps his equipment serviced, repaired, organized. He tries new technology and equipment on a small scale first, to see if it will work in his operation before fully adopting it. He continues to be an innovator today, working as a Soil Health Partnership cooperator, learning and teaching others about soil health practices and opportunities.”
VISITORS WELCOME: Gordon Wassenaar (left) says he is especially proud of a visit by Norman Borlaug (right) in the mid-2000s. Wassenaar frequently hosts visitors, often from foreign countries, to his farm to explain U.S. agriculture to them.
Now “retired,” Wassenaar helps Will Cannon farm about 1,100 acres. Some of it Wassenaar owns; some is rented; some custom-farmed. In addition to these tillable acres, 30 acres are non-tillable. A host of conservation practices are used, including miles of grass waterways and terraces. A neighbor bales the grass waterways for hay.
Couple gets help in farming
Curt Donohue, with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Jasper County, has worked with Wassenaar on conservation issues for 20 years. He’s watched Wassenaar experiment and improve various farming techniques and equipment
in a never-ending quest to improve and protect the land.
“I’ve also watched him share the knowledge he has gained in his effort to assist the people of Jasper County and around the world,” Donohue says. “Gordon works to promote and improve agriculture with an optimistic, problem-solving approach.”
Wassenaar has greatly reduced the mechanical disturbance of his soil. He uses a combination of no-till and vertical-till planting practices, installs and maintains grass waterways, and uses cover crops on all his cropland. As he is transitioning his farm operation to the Cannons, they are continuing and expanding the conservation practices.
Three years ago, the Jasper SWCD and NRCS began partnering with Wassenaar to establish a cover crop demonstration plot and host an annual spring and fall field day and plot tour. The plots have helped people learn how to successfully use cover crops and better understand water quality and soil health issues.
In a letter of support for Wassenaar’s nomination for Master Farmer, the Jasper County SWCD commissioners wrote: “Gordon has spent his lifetime and continues today to promote agriculture and share his conservation ethic with everyone. Gordon is truly a Master Farmer.”