Editor’s Note: Thanksgiving celebrates the successful completion of the harvest season. This week, we are taking a look back at some of the ag-related stories we’ve had the honor of being involved with. Today, we take a look at Iowa’s “Expedition Yetter.”
Iowa’s Food and Family Project strives to help educate the public on the relationship between the farming community and the general public. The goal is to fill the gap and overcome misunderstandings regarding farm products and what we buy at the store.
To help achieve this goal, the organization hosted “Expedition Yetter.” It consisted of a group of about 40 people traveling around central and western Iowa, visiting a variety of farms. People on our tour came from places such as Sioux City, Cedar Rapids, Ogden, Denison and Redfield (all in Iowa). We were the only Nebraskans on the tour.
Our first stop was the Wessling farm, near Grand Junction. The town is located along Highway 30 – the Lincoln Highway – which is the first transcontinental highway in the United States.
The Wesslings operate a farm with both crops and livestock. They raise corn and soybeans. Bruce set out equipment for visitors to check out – tractors, with trailers (for corn), discs and a sprayer. The sprayer caught my attention. Used for treating the land and plants with fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides, the Wesslings’ sprayer spans 120 feet. Impressive.
Even more impressive is GPS used for equipment. GPS coordinates can be loaded into software that helps tractors and combines navigate the terrain easier. The super cool part is that they basically drive themselves with GPS. I rode in a combine last year that had GPS. The farmer took his hands off the steering wheel and we visited while the vehicle continued moving in the right direction.
Bruce has farmed since he could remember. His farmstead once belonged to his great-grandparents. His parents live on the farm, still. The Wesslings have two daughters – an Iowa State student and a high school junior. Both girls and Jenny are active with farm work, Bruce said.
Farmers are “environmental activists,” Bruce said. The Wesslings are committed to ensuring they treat their local environment with respect. They help water quality by building a buffer zone from streams to crops. It helps prevent erosion, as well as manage water flow.
Crop production varies annually for farmers. Their income is based on weather, the economy and market prices. The Wesslings seek to have a steady income, just like the rest of us. They work with Minnesota-based Cargill in raising hogs. They raise the hogs from about 45 lbs. until they’re more than 250 lbs. It takes about 140 days for that to happen.
The family used to raise hogs from farrow to finish – from birth to market. The current set-up provides a nice income for the family farmers.
The hogs are treated well while they reside on the farm, Bruce said. Each hog house can keep 1,200-2,400 hogs, depending on its size. The units maintain a comfortable temperature year-round. Food and water are consistently managed through automation, with tanks just outside to store both items. The farmers ensure the animals are safe.
Bruce believes farmers maintain a “cycle of life.” They use the hog waste for fertilizer in the corn and soybean fields, which helps produce solid crops. The crops are then used to help provide feed for the animals. Thus, the cycle continues.
Our tour gave us an opportunity to see different types of farming. That was definitely the case with the Ausburger farm.
David Ausburger of Jefferson is a nationally recognized environmental steward. The American Soybean Association awarded him its 2014 Conservation Legacy Award for his work with “no till” fields. He doesn’t disc his fields after harvest, turning the ground over. Ausburger believes tilling land removes a lot of nutrients.
“No till” has resulted in darker, richer fields, Ausburger said. It helps build earth worm populations, which help increase soil nutrients.
Business dictates his style of farming, Ausburger said. “I’m no tree hugger,” he said. Land is worth $10,000 an acre. The bank wants to see a profit on the land, so it gets its money back, he said. “It’s business.”
Ausburger supports using cover crops between rotating products. In 2014, he used rye as a cover crop. Seeds were dropped from an airplane (similar to crop dusting) at a speed of about 120 mph. At one point during our visit, Ausburger showed a patch of soil that contained old corn cobs, rye and radish plants. Providing cover crops and rotating crops helps maintain good soil.
Another benefit of “no till” is water management. The area received about 3.5 inches of rain the day before. One inch of rain equals about 27,000 gallons per acre, so the field had more than 94,000 gallons of water fall on each acre. That would weigh more than 400 tons. Yet, little to no soil runoff occurred, Ausburger said.
A tilled field would likely have been too muddy for us to walk on, he said. The field we visited had some mud, but nothing bad. It was like walking on someone’s lawn.
Ausburger’s family farms about 1,700 acres. They have believed in “no till” since the 1970s, when his dad started to incorporate it.
So, after having visited a crop and hog farm, as well as a “no till,” we stopped to check out a cattle operation.
The Higgins family has been involved with farming for decades. They manage a cattle operation, which is also involved with Cargill. The Higginses receive cattle at about 700 lbs. They keep them for about 200 days, adding 600 lbs., before the cattle are taken to market.
The farmers strive to maintain a clean and safe environment for the 500 head of cattle they manage at a time, said Bill Higgins. Each cow consumes about 30 lbs. of feed per day, he said.
Cattle are kept in a facility, which keeps them cool during hot weather and warm during cold weather. They don’t roam around the farm in pastures. Before someone thinks it’s cruel, it actually is more humane than leaving them out in the hot sun all day or during inclement weather.
Once crops are harvested, they need to go to market. That’s where farmer co-ops come into play. Cooperatives can be farmer- or corporate-owned. We stopped at the West Central Co-op in Jefferson.
During the soybean harvest season, the co-op can see up to 500 trucks daily during a 13-hour period. Farmers can net up to 200 bushels per acre from the land, and the crops must be processed same day.
We enjoyed lunch and a wine tasting opportunity at the Santa Maria Winery in Carroll. John and Rose Guinan developed an interest in wine in the late 1990s while living in Omaha. They bought an old car dealership building. The location was once three buildings. One section was a Ford Model-T assembly plant. Another was an old gas station. The third section combined all the structures.
They started to realize a dream of operating a vineyard and winery in 2005 when they bought land near Carroll to start a vineyard. Grapes have a growing season of about 150 days in the Midwest, John said. California’s growing season is about 180 days, so wines produced are different in both regions.
Santa Maria has enjoyed success with its wines. Rhuby Dooby is their most successful wine. It’s a rhubarb-strawberry mix. I’m not a drinker any more, but I was never a red wine guy. However, I sampled a white wine and the Rhuby Dooby. Both were good. I really liked the Rhuby Dooby. We picked up a bottle for our eldest daughter to try.
This may sound stupid, but have you ever connected agriculture to a vineyard? Vineyard is a fancy word for grape farm. So, it was interesting to see a vineyard included as a variety of farm on the tour.
The Guinans produce about 60-100 tons of grapes on 22 acres of land. That results in 22 varieties of wine.
What originally was to be a “retirement dream” has turned into a full service restaurant and winery. We were told we have to go back to try the pizza. Carroll is about a 2-hour drive from Omaha and more than a 90-minute drive from Des Moines (along Highway 30).
Later in the tour, we took a drive through Lake City, which was hit by a tornado last spring. Several buildings were damaged, but the area community worked together to quickly clean up the debris.
Our final destination was the Dougherty farm near Yetter. Darcy Dougherty Maulsby was one of our tour hosts. The family’s farm is a “Century farm.” It turned 100 years old in 2009. They have another farm that will be a century old next year.
Prior to visiting the farm, we took a quick tour of Yetter, population of about 60. The small town is right in the middle of some great farming. Darcy joked that though it’s small, the town has a jail.
Darcy is a noted journalist and the family is active in agriculture organizations. They raise corn and soybeans on the farm.
The family hosted an outdoor dinner for us, which was sponsored by DuPont Pioneer. The seed company is headquartered in Des Moines. The dinner was catered by Lidderdale Country Store.
The group had a lot of fun. The dinner was delicious. We enjoyed homemade pies for dessert.
The day was capped with certificates of appreciation and the “key” to the Yetter jail. Aaron Putze of the Iowa Soybean Association and the Food and Family Project hosted the program section of our visit. The program included comments from Iowa Hawkeye football great Chuck Long.
At the end of the day, we learned a bit about how farmers respect animals, land and crops. It was an education to see the process in which our food is raised. Future “Expeditions” will likely occur in different areas of Iowa.
For more information on the food and family organization, check out www.iowafoodandfamily.com.
Disclaimer: Thanks to Iowa Food and Family Project for the opportunity to be on the tour. However, all opinions and views are ours.