Tim Smith, Eagle Grove, Iowa, is the first NCGA Good Steward winner. He invests a lot of time sharing his experience and conservation optimism with other farmers after reducing his tile water nitrate levels through cover crops, strip-till, bioreactor and delaying nitrogen applications.
Having seen the results of the MRBI-related program firsthand, Smith reaches out to farmers and the public. “I think that the (Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy) goal of reducing nitrates by 41% in Iowa’s waterways is attainable with widespread farmer participation,” he wrote in a recent opinion piece.
“Once farmers see the dollars associated with erosion and nutrient loss, these soil-health changes won’t be such an uphill climb,” he says.
“Cover crops and reduced tillage are just as big a change today as selling the moldboard plow was for my dad in the 1970s. The people who bought his plow asked how he’d farm without it.”
“If farmers don’t voluntarily reduce nutrient losses, people outside of agriculture will push hard for unproven regulations that affect farming in adverse ways we haven’t yet imagined,” Smith says. “I don’t think farmers understand how concerned the consumer is about where their food comes from and how it’s grown.
“I raise seed for Pioneer soybeans, and they are big on independent ISO certification, to verify how things are done. One farmer here is ISO-9000-certified, and we’re all heading in that direction.”
Last summer Smith hosted a group of food companies with these concerns in mind.
“I know Unilever wants a high percentage of its raw ingredients grown sustainably; will Walmart buy all its products the same way? It has vast resources to devote to this. This trend is going to find farmers getting to know our farms in new ways. My tile nitrate level is just as important as stuff like my soil type and farm legal description.”