Steph Essick

Dickens, Iowa

Steph knew she wanted to farm when she was a high school senior. She attended Iowa State University and majored in ag business with a minor in agronomy. She began farming full time in 2000. Currently, she serves as one of 22 directors on the Iowa Soybean Association board.

Q&A

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

Like many farmers, we’ve come a long way in how we care for the land. Once upon a time, we used horses and plows. Today, conservation is woven into everything we do. Innovation, technology, know-how and resources have all played a part. We began strip-tilling in 2004 and today, no-till all our soybean acres. We continually look for opportunities to be more innovative. In addition to reducing tillage, we manage fertilizer use more diligently. This means placing the fertilizer in the exact spot it needs to be to have maximum benefit for the crops we grow. Doing so improves water quality and reduces input costs. We also maintain grassed waterways to reduce soil loss and are establishing pollinator habitat near our home farm. Looking at our farm, additional options include a bioreactor near a tile outlet; they are expensive but are proven to have an impact. Farmers and landowners are always looking at the return on investment of environmental practices. In the case of a bioreactor, the benefits are largely realized downstream so having cost-share assistance of practices like this are very important and helpful.

What else is being done in your county to support soil and water quality?

Many farmers have incorporated no-till and strip till and a host of additional conservation practices into their farming operation. Yet we know that every farm and field is different and has unique needs.

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

Additional public funding for conservation will assist farmers and landowners in gaining the knowledge and expertise they need to localize and adopt conservation practices that work best for their land, cropping rotation, weather, topography and geography. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach so scaling up the number and acres of conservation practices will take dedication and time.