My wife, Margaret, and two brothers own a small farm in Tema county. It’s about 200 acres, with about 150 actively cropped, and the remainder in woodlands or CRP. We’ve always cared about conservation and the environment, and we’ve done our best to put that mindset into our farm management.
The farm is next to a stream, and because of that, we’ve always had some problems with flooding and erosion. We heard about some research Iowa State did with prairie strips (which showed that if you plant just 10% of your fields in prairie that you potentially get an almost 95% reduction in sediment loss!), so we installed six acres of strategically-placed prairie strips in one field. We’ve been pleased with the reduction in runoff, and with the wildlife and pollinator habitat in the prairie strips. Neighbors have taken notice, and several students have done research there.
In the past couple of decades, the heavy rains we’ve had have made both our flooding and erosion problems worse. That’s partly what motivated us to enroll about 25 acres of the lowlands in CRP wetlands, rather than face annual uncertainty of whether the land could raise a crop.
After seeing how well the program worked for us, our neighbor enrolled an adjoining field in CRP prairie/wetland, too. He’d been having trouble getting his machinery into the field, and when the stream flooded it became impossible for him.
Our story isn’t tragic - not like some I’ve read about - but it does show the everyday decisions farmers are being forced to make because of climate change. The spring window to plant our crops has been shrinking; unpredictable weather patterns have made harvesting more difficult; heavy rains and windstorms have damaged crops; the list goes on.
These problems will only get worse until we take action, which is why we need to move quickly. That could mean carbon sequestration into our soil and investment into clean and renewable energy, which would benefit small farmers like me and strengthen our economy. Whatever we do, we must make sure we keep in mind the world our children and grandchildren inherit.