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Conservation Stewardship Program Helps Iowa Farmer Improve Natural Resources

Wernimont leads in improving water, air quality and energy conservation despite difficult times

Ag Innovators Conserve 50 Million Acres

By Jason Johnson, NRCS Iowa

Ag Innovators Conserve 50 Million Acres
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Iowa farmer Kris Wernimont carefully uses the right amount of fertilizer and pesticide on her corn and soybean fields, and solar panels power the electric fencing in her pastures. That’s because she is a steward of natural resources, as these actions conserve energy and lead to cleaner water and healthier soil.

Conservation is nothing new to the Atlantic, Iowa-area farm, operated by Wernimont and her family for three decades. The farm uses conservation practices offered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) through the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), which is geared toward landowners, like Wernimont, who are already using conservation and want to take their efforts to the next level.

CSP farmers are conservation leaders, showing how science-based conservation and technological advancements can improve the environment and farming operations at the same time. In the past four years, more than 50 million acres have been enrolled in the program across the U.S., illustrating how many dedicated farmers have gone beyond the call of duty.

The Wernimonts added a solar-powered electric fence as an energy enhancement through CSP.

The Wernimonts added a solar-powered electric fence as an energy enhancement through CSP.

While all of this makes Wernimont seem like a veteran farmer, it has only been a year or so since she took the reins of the farm, when her husband, Al, died from cancer last year. He was traditionally the decision-maker on the farm.

“I was mostly a sounding board for Al, so making the final decision on farming operation issues was difficult,” Kris Wernimont says of her 231 acres under a CSP contract. “Al earned the CSP contract through years of good land stewardship. He told me before he died that I didn’t have to keep the contract if it was too much work, but it hasn’t been.”

Despite the obstacles, Wernimont persevered and kept the farm on its path of conservation innovation.

“The NRCS folks were patient and helped explain the program and what I needed to do to follow through,” she says.

Through CSP, producers who have used successful conservation activities are also challenged to implement new measures – or enhancements– that take natural resource protection to the next level. CSP allowed her to address concerns she never thought of addressing. The enhancements include:

  • nozzles for pesticide applicators that reduce the amount of chemicals that drift in the air;
  • retrofitted livestock watering tanks that allow wildlife to escape if they become trapped while drinking water; and
  • solar panels that power electric fencing for livestock containment in a more energy-efficient way.
This tractor is towing an applicator, which allows fertilizers to be carefully placed on fields.
This tractor is towing an applicator, which allows nitrogen and other fertilizers to be carefully placed on fields.

A fourth enhancement, split nitrogen application, is especially effective when it comes to increasing profits while helping the environment. This practice involves applying 50 percent of total crop nitrogen needs within 30 days prior to planting and the remaining 50 percent after crop emergence. This practice reduces fertilizer use.

“We are making better use of our nutrients,” Wernimont says. “The plant can now utilize nitrogen as needed, when it needs it, and in a timely manner.”

Meanwhile, Wernimont also employs other common conservation practices on her cropland, including the use of filter strips and terraces, which prevent sediment, nutrient and pesticide runoff by shaping the land to trap and store water. Plus, she leases some of her land to her neighbor to farm, and he uses those same practices, too.

NRCS District Conservationist Dave York, who worked with Wernimont and others to implementCSP, said the participants treat enrollment like a badge of honor. “Farmers want to be rewarded for what they’re doing, and CSP does that.”

Kris Wernimont’s farm consists of grazing lands for cattle and fields of corn and soybeans.
Kris Wernimont’s farm consists of grazing lands for cattle and fields of corn and soybeans.

The program is having a positive impact locally, as it cleans local waterways and serves as an investment in this western Iowa community.

Learn more about CSP by viewing this self-screening checklist,which highlights basic eligibility requirements, contract obligations and potential payments.  

Also, be sure to check out a radio interview with NRCS Acting Chief Jason Weller and a video from Wernimont’s farm.