Building a legacy of environmental stewardship was goal-oriented process

By Dal Grooms

The physical distance between the first and current farm operations of Iowa’s 2015 Iowa Environmental Stewardship Award Program winners is short; just 50 miles. But if you look at the progression of the stewardship journey Glenn and Bev Rowe have taken, the distance seems much greater.

The couple began their farming careers in 1969 in rural Dallas County. They joined Glenn’s parents in a diversified farming operation, while Glenn and Bev were both students at Iowa State University. The couple also had a small cow herd.

Now, they farm near Lorimor, just inside the Union County line, where their farm operation includes 1,000 acres of pasture paddocks, wildlife refuge, and some crop acres.

As Iowa’s ESAP representatives, the Rowes have been nominated for recognition at the regional level, which includes four other states. If they are successful in the regional competition, the Rowes will move on to the national level.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association initiated the environmental award program in 1991 to highlight exceptional work done by cattle producers to protect and enhance the environment. Since its inception, Iowa cattle producers have won 16 regional awards and three national ones.

It was the cow herd that led to the Rowes really upping their game on conservation.

Yes, they were part of the change on that Dallas County farm that took it from moldboard plowing and finely tilled soils for planting, to leaving soybean stubble untouched and disc chiseling corn stalks that would leave enough residue on the field to avoid wind erosion.

While those processes were taking place on row cropland, they had purchased some pasture ground in Madison County. At the time, there was no rotational grazing; weeds in the pasture were managed with chemicals; cows drank from ponds and creeks. In short, there were virtually no conservation measures in place.

The Rowes slowly changed things on the purchased land. Fencing around ponds, putting in water tanks below ponds, building internal division fences and more secure perimeter fences, installing low-stress working corrals, and seeding native grass species for weed and erosion control.

And then, things really began to change when the Rowes’ two sons decided they wanted to come back and join the farming operation in 1999. 

When sons Justin and Tanner indicated they wanted to be part of the farm operation, Bev and Glenn decided they would build a new home and facilities on a 427-acre farm they purchased in 1997 in Union County. The location lent itself well to rotational grazing and rural water access for their cow-calf herd.

Their process created sustainability in very measurable ways. Two more cattle farming operations were added to Iowa’s cattle community as Justin duplicated his father’s cow-calf approach, and Tanner developed a feedyard.

On the environmental side, Glenn and Bev developed simple goals for their farm in Union County: they focused on returning old CRP and lower quality farmland to improved and rotationally grazed pastures. Doing that part successfully would help them move to sustainable economic goals like increasing the carrying capacity and forage yields on their land.

The couple has expanded the Lorimor farm operation to 1,000 acres, and added numerous conservation practices through EQIP (Environmental Quality Improvement Program) working with the FSA and NRCS.

The Rowes partnered with the NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) on no less than seven projects including rotational grazing, rural water pipeline installation, reseeding and fertilizing after soil testing, internal fencing of paddocks, water heavy use fabric at crossings and stream bank stabilizations.

They maintain at least 23 paddocks, with the largest being 24 acres. Herds are rotated at least weekly and as often as weather conditions dictate. Cows quickly become accustomed to being moved and usually are waiting at the gate to be rotated.

Solar fencers are used for all division fencing of paddocks with high tensile wire and poly posts used for efficient use of solar power.

They also use solar power for their waterers which are mostly served with rural water piped into paddocks, although there are a couple of energy-free waterers below fenced-off ponds. The Rowes feel the rural water system makes sure the cows always have available fresh, clean water, which results in better conception rates, healthier cattle and better utilization of forages.

Working through challenges

The Rowes like to run 120 plus cows in their herd, but with the drought of 2011 and 2012, they became short on feed. The piped-in rural water and rotational grazing were very important for them. Even though the dry conditions forced them to reduce their herd by 30%; many farmers in their area were hurt much worse.

In 2013, as the rain returned, they focused on rebuilding their herd. The Rowes have kept back nearly all heifer calves, and they continue to focus on re-building.

The drought also impacted the work they had done to bring trees to the landscape.

When they decided to move to their farm near Lorimor, there were no trees within 1/8 of a mile. Glenn and Bev planted 166 trees around the building site and lots. Mostly oak and ash trees were moved in at about 3-4 feet tall. Blue spruce, arborvitae, fir and cedar trees that were 2-3 feet tall were also planted along the west side of the building site and lots for wind and snow protection.

Today, most trees are 20 feet tall or more. Some of the ash trees may be lost to the emerald ash borer which has invaded Iowa, but they continue to plant trees every year. They now have a tree-lined lane, plus lots of trees bordering their yard, including several kinds of fruit trees.

While the Rowes planted lots of trees close to their buildings, they have invasive trees in their pastures. These are mostly red cedar and thorny locust. Both are very prolific and require constant management to keep ahead of them by cutting, mowing, dozing or spraying them.

Improved pasture, forages

Controlling weeds is a challenge every landowner faces. Doing so in an environmental way requires planning and follow-through. The Rowes did use chemicals to control weeds at first, broadcasting with Grazon, and then spot spraying with Forefront as control was needed. After control of broadleaves is accomplished, they then started frost seeding in the winter with red clover into established grasses, thereby furnishing nitrogen to the soil which added to the carrying capacity and quality of the grasses.

Haying, mowing or grazing of the pastures takes care of weeds and invasive trees later on. They also flash graze waterways and around ponds. This short grazing period stimulates growth and helps to control invasive plants.

Wildlife area

When the cattle thrive, so do the wildlife.

The Rowes have 40 acres of CRP that has been planted to over 17,000 trees of different varieties. This serves as a shelter for wildlife between the open pastures and row crop land. It harbors abundant populations of whitetail deer, wild turkeys, pheasants, quail, turtles, lizards, blue herons, birds, rabbits and a variety of other small animals. There are also fish-stocked ponds.

The Rowes work closely with local and state NRCS staff, as well as Iowa State University’s Extension and Outreach specialists. They’ve also invested time in educating themselves; Glenn is a graduate of Master Grazier and Master Forester programs, while Bev is a Master Gardener, and earned her Masters of Beef Advocacy (MBA) from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. The couple are active beef promoters in community, state and national events, and are also active members of the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, NCBA, and American National Cattlewomen.

ESAP is supported by the National Cattlemen’s Foundation, Dow AgroSciences, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.