MELBOURNE — There aren’t a lot of crops on this 80-acre tract of land, but that doesn’t mean things aren’t growing here.
The Marshall County farm is owned by the Land Improvement Contractors of Iowa, and for the last few years it has been a place where members come to practice.
Now it is transitioning to a place where others can come to learn about the various conservation practices built there.
“Our members are people who are deeply rooted to the land,” explains Tim Recker, a farmer and land contractor who has worked on the LICA farm. “They really do care about the soil.”
Recker specializes in tiling and buffers in his land moving business. Others specialize in pond-building, terraces or putting in complex conservation structures.
Since LICA bought the central Iowa farm in November 2003, its members have gathered here to learn from each other. They have tried out new pieces of equipment, given and received lessons on how to build certain structures and worked on demonstration projects.
Now, as the deep-water pond begins to fill, the members understand there isn’t much more to do on this property when it comes to installing new structures.
At some point they may need to talk about whether to buy another farm for practice and play, but for now, the discussion is about how to best use the place to teach farmers, government officials, students and the public about conservation structures and practices.
This is one of the few places where a visitor can see a wide variety of structures and practices in one small area. The farm includes items ranging from a saturated buffer strip, wetlands and retention ponds, to a bioreactor and CREP (Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program) wetland. This summer, workers moved land to build a large pond below the CREP.
These practices come in different sizes and with different costs. A CREP can cost a significant amount of money — perhaps $150,000 — but there are state funds to help offset that cost, and the structure provides long-term help.
A bioreactor may cost $10,000. A saturated buffer may cost as little as $3,000 and provide a big environmental impact.
Signs explain the various structures and practices here.
What’s more, Recker says, the farm gives an idea of how well the practices work. This 80-acre farm drains a watershed of about 1,000 acres.
Since the land contractors began installing structures and practices here, the neighbors have seen the results, and many of them have also started adding waterways and other conservation practices.
The hope is visitors can see just what these structures look like and how well they work so they start to consider them for their own farm operations.
“We all know that if you get somebody from your area to do something and you see that it is working, that makes a difference,” Recker says.
Farmers want to conserve the land and to do better, Recker says. Many know they probably aren’t doing enough.
The challenge often comes down to two things: What is the right structure or practice for their own farm and how can they pay for those items?
For the most expensive items here, such as the CREP, there are probably few farmers willing to build without government money.
But many farmers are installing waterways or saturated buffers on their own because once they decide to do it they don’t want to wait for government paperwork and funding.