Charlie SchaferAdair, Iowa
Charlie is the president of Agri Drain and grew up on a small farm north of Adair. Agri Drain is a family-based business started in 1976. The company manufactures and distributes its water management products to customers throughout the United States and Canada.
What do you see happening in the landscape that you believe is really helping advance water and soil quality in a positive way?
I believe we're seeing the consumer really care about the quality of their food and the way it's produced; and the lasting impact on that production system. It's a little bit like when organics came in. That, I think, was more about personally them making the right choice for them and their family. Still, now it's almost a concern not necessarily self-centered but on the planet, for their neighbors and community downstream. How do our production systems impact the rest of civilization, fellow Iowans, or America and beyond?
What is needed to increase the pace or the scale of more environmental or soil and water quality progress in the landscape?
We've got a complicated delivery system and a voluntary approach with private landowners. The bulk of the rain that falls east of the Missouri river falls on private land, and that land is primarily used for row crop production. So, we need to find ways to incentivize those landowners to invest in these practices, and it's an educational thing; it's an awareness thing. Ultimately, I think it's a long-term vision of what this country and our wonderful natural resources will look like in 100-years plus. That'll be based largely on the investments we make or plan to make today.
What are ways public funding can be leveraged to make an even greater impact?
I think it can be leveraged between local, state and federal because you can't use federal dollars to match federal dollars, but you can use state dollars to match federal dollars. There's a lot of discussions now on additional levels of investment from the federal government, and I think that's great. I think if consumers — ultimately in a market-based economy — are willing to pay a premium for something grown sustainability, then those dollars can be funneled back down to the individual grower as they've done in organics. I think there's a significant opportunity there. The environmental markets should also be a pay-for-performance type of arrangement. We can reduce peak flows in flooding by on-farm water management systems and save those downstream communities money and save the insurance companies money and the tremendous amount of problems associated with those types of flooding, peak flow events. I think there's real money to be saved, and that could be distributed over those private acres to invest in.