Local conservation efforts recognized

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Jerome and Kris Sass (middle) received the 2016 Owner-Operator Award for the Clayton SWCD. They are pictured with Gerry Ommen (left) from the Clayton SWCD, and Nick Westhoff, from Farm Bureau.

Nick Donlon (left) was selected as the 2016 Outstanding New Cooperator for the Clayton SWCD. He’s pictured with commissioner Gerry Ommen.

Derek Larson (right) received the 2016 Bernard Hanson award as the top individual soil judge. He’s pictured with Owen Sylvester, from the Clayton SWCD.

Caleb Stuckman (right) received the 2016 Bernard Hanson award as the top pacer for 2016. He’s pictured with SWCD chairman Owen Sylvester.

This year’s top soil judging team was from MFL MarMac. Pictured are Clayton SWCD commissioner Owen Sylvester (left) with students Beau Benzing, Chloe Hubanks, Skylar Moser and Derek Larson.

The Clayton Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) honored the outstanding conservation efforts of local farm families during the annual awards banquet Dec. 7, at Freedom Bank in Elkader. This year’s award winners showcase a variety of conservation efforts, and each recipient provides an outstanding example of what people can do to protect the natural resources that everyone enjoys in northeast Iowa. The local awards program is co-sponsored by the Clayton County Farm Bureau. 

Jerome Sass received the 2016 Owner-Operator Award for the Clayton SWCD. Jerome owns and/or operates 300 acres in Monona Township, in northwest Clayton County. Over the last six years, he has implemented a combination of structural and management practices that reduce soil erosion and nutrient loss from his farm.  

Since he began farming in 1972, Jerome has utilized a variety of conservation practices. The farm operation originally included a dairy enterprise. For 30 years, steep cropland slopes were protected with a contour stripcropping system. Jerome transitioned to corn and soybean production in 1999. As soybeans were added to his crop rotation, he experimented with no-till. He currently uses no-till where corn is planted into soybean stubble, or when soybeans are planted into corn stalks.  

Jerome initiated his first terrace project in 2010 through the Silver Creek Watershed Project, and continued with a series of terrace projects through the fall of 2014. His farm now includes almost two miles of terraces. A water and sediment control basin was constructed in 2013. Jerome has planted a rye cover crop following soybean harvest each year since 2012. The combination of terraces, no-till and cover crops form an effective system of conservation practices.  

Jim and Doug Zieman were selected for recognition in the Landlord/Tenant Division for 2016. This division highlights the cooperation necessary to achieve the common goal of conserving natural resources. Jim’s farm includes 240 acres of cropland in Grand Meadow Township, near Postville. His nephew, Doug, has leased the farm since 2009.

Jim began using no-till during the latter stages of his farming career. He established the original contour lines that Doug maintains, and added two acres of new grassed waterways in 2012 and 2013. Jim seeded a 15-acre filter strip along Silver Creek in 2001 and entered the buffer into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The filter strip traps nutrients and provides cover for wildlife. Doug grows corn and soybeans on the cropland acres and continues the tradition of no-till. Based on their combined efforts, it has been 18 years since the crop acres were tilled.  

The Clayton SWCD’s New Cooperator Award was presented to Nick Donlon. Nick owns or rents more than 500 acres of cropland near Marquette, in northeast Clayton County. Nick utilizes a no-till system on continuous corn acres. His home farm includes over 8,400 feet of terraces that were constructed by his father, Jim, between 2001 and 2006.  

Each year, the Clayton SWCD selects an overall winner from the owner/operator, landlord tenant and new cooperator divisions. The overall winner is then entered into the regional division of the Iowa Soil Conservation Awards Program, which includes entries from 11 other counties in northeast Iowa. This year’s overall winner for the Clayton SWCD was Jerome Sass.  

Brenda Rekow received the 2016 Izaak Walton League Windbreak Award. Her farm is located in Grand Meadow Township, near Postville. The windbreak includes rows of highbush cranberry, Black Hills spruce and Norway spruce that were planted in 2010. The new rows of trees and shrubs complement white pines on the property that are over 50 years old. Brenda’s efforts to maintain the windbreak are evident in the outstanding growth of the trees. The windbreak protects the house and buildings from winter winds and adds beauty and diversity to the farmstead.  

Other Honorees

On Sept. 29, 38 students from three local high schools gathered at the Osborne Pond site, near Elkader, for the 41st annual Clayton SWCD soil judging contest. Participants judged soil profiles, tested their pacing ability and flagged contour lines. Individual and team winners were recognized at this year’s awards banquet.

Bernard Hanson served as a Clayton SWCD commissioner for over 24 years. Awards in his name are presented to the top individual soil judge and pacing contest winners.  Derek Larson, of MFL MarMac, was the top soil judge. Caleb Stuckman, also from MFL MarMac, took first place in the pacing contest. This year’s top contour layout team, from Ed-Co, included Trevor Hosington and Tanner Paul. Larson, Skylar Moser, Beau Benzing and Chloe Hubanks made up this year’s top soil judging team, from MFL MarMac.

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