Thomas grew up on his family's farm in West Branch before attending Iowa State University and beginning his career with Heartland Co-op. This year marks his 16th year with the cooperative, leading the Precision ag and Conservation Departments. Currently, Thomas and his wife Jennifer live in Ankeny with their five kids.
What are you doing to practice and promote soil and water quality?
For over 20 years, Heartland Co-op has recognized the need for ag retail to be a leader in helping farmers adopt conservation and improve soil health. As a founding member of Agricultures Clean Water Alliance (ACWA), Heartland Co-op has pursued partnerships and collaboration to reach this end. These partnerships included work with the Midwest Ag Water Quality Partnership RCPP, Land O' Lake Truterra, and the Iowa Soybean Association, to name a few. In 2020 Heartland Co-op made a significant investment into supporting our farmer members by hiring two conservation agronomists. These conservation-focused agronomists have been able to help our farmers walk through the challenges of adopting management changes, installing edge of field practices, and finding economic support for their conservation adoption.
What else is being done in your county to support soil and water quality?
Innovative new solutions to problems have been emerging recently through strategic partnerships. Polk County has created a model for identifying and streamlining the installing of saturated buffers and is on pace to install hundreds of buffers and bioreactors in just a few years. The Iowa Soybean Association has partnered with ag retailers across the state to create a network of conservation agronomists focused on delivering conservation solutions to the farm. And Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) is working with consumer packaged goods companies to deliver cost-share dollars directly to farmers for cover crops.
What could be done with more public funding for soil and water quality?
Iowa farmers are innovative business owners who work very hard and manage many risks. From the outside looking in, it is easy to misunderstand the difficulties these farmers face because what we see are men and women who love their work. Farming is not easy, and adopting conservation is not easy. Yet, we are seeing adoption of these conservation practices increase, program funding exhausted, and the demand for conservation support higher than it has ever been. Farmers are willing to adopt conservation despite the reality that it brings a higher level of risk to their operation and can often lower yields and create other management challenges. Increased funding for conservation adoption in Iowa is vital because it shares this risk with our farmers. Increased funding can also support conservation agronomy positions focused on helping farmers adopt and manage conservation practices on their farms. Iowa farmers are willing to take on the challenge of improving soil health and water quality, but Iowa needs to support the challenges and risks they are taking to get us to our shared goals.