Clayton SWCD honors outstanding conservation efforts of local farm families

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Rick and Laurie Blietz and Meyer Family Farms were selected for recognition in the Landlord/Tenant division of the 2018 Clayton SWCD Awards program. Pictured (left to right) are Phillip, Amanda and Jessa Meyer, Laurie and Rick Blietz and SWCD Chairman Ron Kaiser. (Submitted photos)

The Izaak Walton League Windbreak Award was presented to Clark Wikner. Pictured (left to right) are Kristine and Clark Wikner and SWCD Commissioner Owen Sylvester.

The Clayton Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) honored the outstanding conservation efforts of local farm families during the annual awards banquet held Dec. 6, at the Central State Bank Community Room in Elkader. This year’s award winners showcase a variety of conservation efforts and each recipient provides an outstanding example of what can be done to protect the natural resources people enjoy in northeast Iowa. The awards program is co-sponsored by the Clayton County Farm Bureau.  

Tom and John Berns

Tom and John Berns are the 2018 Owner-Operator Award winners for the Clayton SWCD. The Berns brothers operate over 2,500 acres of cropland in central Clayton County, between Elkader and Garnavillo. They continue a tradition of outstanding conservation work begun by their father, Leon Berns. In 1988, Leon received the Outstanding Owner-Operator award from the Clayton Soil and Water Conservation District.  

Tom and John employ a combination of structural and management practices that reduce soil erosion and nutrient loss from their farms. Leon initiated some of their first terrace projects more than 30 years ago. It is estimated that the farms they own or operate include more than 20 miles of terraces. John and Tom have used a no-till planting system for corn and soybeans since 2001. Part of this effort was based on a need to save both labor and soil. There was a point where they thought contouring, terraces and no-till would be enough to adequately protect their farms, but severe storms kept them looking for additional improvements. In 2014, they drilled 300 acres of cover crops. Since 2014, they have seeded as many as 1,000 acres of cover crops each year. The combination of terraces, no-till and cover crops form an effective system of conservation practices.

Rick Blietz and Meyer Grain Farms

Rick and Laurie Blietz and Meyer Family Farms were selected for recognition in the Landlord/Tenant Division by the Clayton SWCD for 2018. This division highlights the cooperation necessary to achieve the common goal of conserving natural resources. Rick’s farms include over 200 acres of cropland and timber east of Monona. Phillip Meyer and his family have leased the farm for several years.  

In 1997, Rick established the original contour lines and buffer strips that are still utilized on the farm. In 1999, he entered 24 acres of buffer strips into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Phillip typically rotates two years of corn with a year of soybeans on Rick’s farm. A no-till system is used for two of every three crop years; tillage is limited to the year where corn follows corn. The Meyers protect critical acres with cover crops and have seeded some of the most fragile areas to alfalfa. Rick and his contractor, Brad Freilinger, took extraordinary efforts to ensure the success of a pond project. The pond and adjacent cabin have provided a source of recreation for the Blietzes. The system of buffer strips installed by Rick, combined with the cover crops and reduced tillage system employed by Phillip, ensures that very little soil ever leaves this farm.  

Travis Anderson

The Clayton SWCD’s New Cooperator Award was presented to Travis Anderson. Travis operates 250 acres of cropland west of St. Olaf. He utilizes cover crops, contour buffer strips and a no-till planting system to protect his crop acres. His willingness to incorporate a wide variety of conservation practices is reflected in his farming operation. In 2017, Travis began planning a rotational grazing system for his beef cattle. This spring, he converted 17 acres of cropland to a mix of forages and installed nearly 2,000 feet of waterline. His plans for next year include additional pasture seeding, 7,000 feet of fencing and more watering facilities. When the project is complete, Travis’ farm will feature a 40-acre rotational grazing system.

Izaak Walton League Windbreak Award

Clark Wikner received the 2018 Izaak Walton League Windbreak Award. His farm is located four miles east of Farmersburg, in northern Clayton County. In 2008, Clark planted two rows of Arbor Vitae to complement existing trees. He also added a mixed row of Red Twig Dogwood and High Bush Cranberry to add diversity to the planting. The windbreak protects his house and buildings from winter winds and adds beauty and wildlife habitat to the farmstead. Clark’s work to maintain and water the windbreak is evident in the outstanding growth of the trees.  

Woodland Owner of the Year

The 2018 Woodland Owner of the Year Award was presented to Michael and Jill Morris. Their farm includes 225 acres of cropland and timber west of Volga. Michael and Jill have worked hard to improve their property. Their efforts have had a direct impact on the quality and diversity of their forest resource.  

Michael and Jill outlined the goals for their property by creating a Forest Stewardship Management Plan. Their objective is to reduce soil erosion, produce quality timber and develop wildlife habitat. The bulk of 160 acres of cropland has been enrolled in the CRP Program. The Morrises have undertaken a series of projects to add trees to their farm and attract wildlife. An eight-acre riparian buffer was planted in 2013 and features a mix of trees and shrubs to protect water sources. Subsequent projects include wildlife food plots, additional tree and shrub plantings and a diverse seeding of native warm season grasses and wildflowers.  

Other Honorees

On Sept. 21, 25 students from three high schools gathered at the Osborne Pond site near Elkader for the 43rd 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. Collin Malcom of Postville was the top soil judge for 2018. Jaxton Schroeder from MFL MarMac took first place in the pacing contest. This year’s top contour layout team from Postville included Conner Meyer and Collin Malcom. Jack Wiskus, Avery Wessel, Brenden Pape and Noelle Kerns made up this year’s top soil judging team from Ed-Co.

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