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Like many farmers, Rob Stout hopes his operation will be viable for generations to come. With the future in mind that means focusing on sustainability today.
The Washington, Iowa, producer has learned multiple lessons about sustainability and conservation through the years. For starters, he’s installed solar panels on his hog barns. Stout says his monthly bill fluctuates some, but it’s now hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars less each month.
“We were running up to $2,000 per month in the summertime [at one point] with our electricity bills,” Stout says. “My monthly bill last year was $21.”
When it comes to his row crop operation, Stout has been no-tilling for nearly 40 years.
A decade ago, he started doing cover crop test plots with Iowa State University. He liked what he saw, and implementation took off from there. In 2019, 100% of his fields had a cover crop.
“We have a lot higher earthworm population,” Stout says. “In our studies with Iowa State University, they say there are about 40% more earthworms.”
He’s also researching termination timing.
“We are pretty successful at growing corn and soybeans both into decaying rye,” he explains. “Of course, it has a lot of benefits. It has soil erosion benefits and soil health benefits.”
For him, cover crops have been worth the investment and one he plans to continue despite the swings in the farm economy.
“When I make out a budget for the year for my crops it’s going to include cover crop seed and seeding it,” he says. “I wouldn’t give that up any more than I would putting on herbicide.”
Stout isn’t alone. Conservation is something many pork producers are implementing too.
“At a really high level, the concept of a carbon-neutral pig is more than just a concept, it’s really close to being a reality,” says Bill Even, CEO of the National Pork Board. “The Pork Checkoff [with the National Pork Board] is going to be a driver along with our sister organization the National Pork Producers Council. Everyone understands the pork industry is committed to continuous improvement. Being able to verify our sustainability metrics is going to be an important part of that.”
As Stout checks his bioreactor, he’s pleased with the continued reduction in nitrates.
“This is the first one built on a farm south of I-80 in Iowa,” he says. “On average, we’ve taken about 70% out during the five years we’ve had it. The book value said it would take out 40% or 45%, I think.”
Whether it’s solar panels, no-till, cover crops or a bioreactor, Stout’s goal is to farm using environmentally positive systems.
“I want it to be here and be in better shape for the next generation and the next generation,” he says.