Farmer to Farmer:
Mark Mueller farms near Waverly, Iowa and is a leader in using conservation practices to preserve the soil and improve water quality on his farm. He has been farming with his family since 1995 where they raise corn, soybeans and specialty crops for national and international customers. In 2006, Mark established a business relationship with a new dairy and raises alfalfa and corn silage for the dairy. They utilize the organic fertilizer generated by the dairy’s cows on their cropland.
Preserving Soil: “I started using cover crops and no-till practices in 2006. That was the first year that we had a new dairy harvest silage from our farm. Within days of the silage harvest, we had a 3-inch rain pound the now-bare ground and I watched some of my best soil wash off the farm. Since then, I resolved to seed a cover crop immediately after harvesting the corn, soy or silage in any of my fields. I knew that we'd have to be proactive to preserve our soil, so we started no-till farming. No-till fields will never win a beauty contest, but my consolation prize is spending a lot less money for slightly fewer bushels. After all, do I want more bushels per acre or more dollars per acre?”
Cleaner Water: “I started using cereal rye cover crops and no-till practices to accomplish several things, chief among them, to make my farm more profitable. But the tangible side benefits to my land are that the soil and water stay on my farm. Last year, with state and federal money, I had a 12-acre wetland built on ground I could not farm anyway. This wetland drains almost 400 acres of land planted to corn and soybeans. I feel good knowing that these acres drain into my wetland where the tile water will be cleaned by microbes and vegetation.”
Dual Benefits of Soil Health Water Quality: “I was among the first to sign up for the Soil Health Partnership 10 years ago. The goal was to put a dollar value on the value of cover crops and various farm practices. Everyone can immediately see the costs of growing a cover crop: the price of seed, planting it and, later, terminating it if it overwinters. But what I saw was less run-off from rain since the soil structure is more permeable and the organic matter was soaking up the excess water. Also, I don't see the ditches filled with muddy water heading towards streams and rivers and ending up in the Gulf of Mexico. An added benefit is that I can get fieldwork done sooner after rainstorms because the rainfall has soaked in faster, and I don’t have field ponds to work around”.