Mitch HoraWashington, Iowa
Mitchell is a 7th generation farmer from southeast Iowa. Mitchell farms with his father Brian, and the Hora family have been practicing no-till since 1978 and cover crops since 2013. Beyond their farm, Mitchell is the Founder/CEO of Continuum Ag, a global soil health data company helping 1 million farmers profit from improved soil health. Mitchell has been named to the AgGrad 30 under 30 list and, alongside his father, deemed "soil health champions" by the National Association of Conservation Districts.
What are you doing to practice and promote soil and water quality?
We say our farm is traveling the regenerative ag journey, which means that we are continuously implementing soil health principles. We've been minimizing disturbance and improving soil armor since 1978, the year the operation began implementing no-till. We've also reduced our NPK use by 45% and our pesticides by 75% to decrease mechanical disturbance and chemicals. The operation has been pushing to keep a living root since 2013 when we began using cover crops. We've also diversified our species by raising corn, soybeans, cereal rye, winter wheat, malt barley, and mustard, all for cash crops. We've also used over 20 species of cover crops, going as far as interseeding 60" corn with a drone to creatively implement the practice and eliminate the excuse of "it won't work here." We also have been using weekly Haney soil health tests for about five years, use weekly drone imagery, and deploy weather/soil sensors that take readings in the fields every hour.
What needs for soil health and water quality do you see in your region/county?
Washington County is an anomaly in that there are three times the cover crop acres versus any other county in Iowa. Our county is winning because our NRCS office allows farmers to be innovative, and they don't force the book upon anyone. There is trust farmer collaboration will prevail, and sharing of ideas is the key to success. This has been going on since the '50s and is deeply ingrained. Other regions need to enable farmers to be innovative, support them with cost-share and other available resources, and stay out of the way.
What could be done with more public funding for soil and water quality?
It is my understanding that more funding isn't the issue. Washington County uses 12% of the state's cost-share funding but should be responsible for using 1%. Farmers aren't using the available funding because they don't understand how to implement the practices and avoid economic risks logistically. Funding should be used to highlight innovative farmers, support farmer-led events, showcase local case studies, and accumulate the data needed from real-scale scenarios to eliminate excuses.