Lydia Whitman

Calamus, Iowa

Lydia lives in eastern Iowa and is part of a family farm where she is the sixth generation.

Q&A

What are you doing to practice and promote soil and water quality?

We started off with just no-tillage. From there we started implementing cover crops and they were good, but we weren't getting the gains we were hoping for. Then we took a step farther and started rotationally grazing some cattle and goats on the same area as well, leaving the cover crop and have even started planting some green. Then going to corn-on-bean rotation. Along with that, we've seen this rebuild in soil health and recognize we needed to make sure our waterways were up to snuff so that if we had anything coming off the field, we could capture it so we don't have that sediment loss; we don't have the nutrient loss. We also have some hay strips around our fields, so adding a field border so we can capture some nutrients. Between the waterways and the hay areas we're also keeping a really nice spot for beneficial insects to live in the offseason when stuff's not blooming on the field. All that together starts to create the portfolio of what's really working on our farm.

What needs for soil health and water quality do you see in your region/county?

Around our region, we're near the Wapsipinicon and Mississippi River, and we have tons of watersheds and drainage districts. There's so much water and so many hills. It's this landscape that's just asking for help. If we can do simple things like implementing no-till, like having something living on the ground that's using the soil, holding it in place or using the nutrients, it seems like our responsibility, right? When we take care of the soil, now we're building up this repository of healthy ground that's willing to grow stuff for us. That starts to create sustainability for my farming practices. If my soil isn't healthy, my bank account isn't going to be healthy.

What could be done with more public funding for soil and water quality?

The natural next step is to continue to build that bulk of evidence that demonstrates what is truly the best practice. What is going to be sustainable? What's going to be agronomically possible? What are those thresholds that we need to hit for our fertilizer application? Or what is the threshold for optimal pesticide use? How many acres do we need to have in production to be profitable to the point that we don't need to do every single inch of land on our ground, that we can create these buffers along our stream banks so we can capture some of that sediment and nutrient wash off?