By Haley Banwart
Rob Stout has dedicated his farming career to putting conservation strategies into practice. Since 1983 he has used no-till on his acres and has implemented various land management practices including cover crops, buffer strips, grassed waterways and even a woodchip bioreactor.
Stout’s environmental stewardship recently earned him and his family the Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award. On Sept. 6, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey presented the award to the Stouts, thanking them for the many ways they lead by example in caring for their land, livestock and community
“I feel responsible to leave the farm in a better place than I got it, and that includes the land and the soil, but it also includes the water that leaves the land,” said Stout. “Water quality is important to me, and we all have to do our part to keep the nutrients here on the land where they belong.”
Putting conservation strategies into practice
The Stouts were nominated for the Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award by Iowa State University Extension ag engineering specialist Greg Brenneman. In his nomination, Brenneman highlighted Rob’s ongoing participation in on-farm research projects, as well as his leadership in the West Fork Crooked Creek Water Quality and Soil Health Initiative, a local partnership that aligns with the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy and the Iowa Water Quality Initiative.
Stout is the third generation in his family to raise crops and livestock in rural Washington County. Although Stout envisioned himself following in his father and grandfather’s footsteps, his future wasn’t clear until his final quarter as a farm operation student at Iowa State University.
Strives to leave the land in better shape
“I was ready to do something else for a while if there wasn’t room on the farm, but then an opportunity presented itself,” said Stout. “I came home for Christmas my senior year and my parents had heard a farm nearby was for sale, so they encouraged me to talk to the owner.” That window of opportunity was Stout’s ticket home. Since then, he has grown the farm to include 1,100 acres of corn and soybeans and 9,000 head of hogs. He has also adopted a variety of soil and water conservation practices.
According to Stout, the evolution of those practices began in response to an erosion-causing rain event that impacted his farm ground in the 1970s. “We knew we were going to have to do things different,” said Stout. “No-till was starting to get pretty big in Washington County at that time, so we bought a new no-till planter in 1983 and decided to jump in whole-hog on no-till.”
Cover crops started in 2009
In 2009, Stout began experimenting with cover crops. While he has completed trials with oats, winter peas, tillage radishes and crimson clover, Stout says cereal rye has become the cover crop he can count on. Today he plants cereal rye on nearly all of his acres.
Stout’s latest environmental endeavor includes a woodchip bioreactor that was installed on his farm in 2014 as part of his involvement with the West Fork Crooked Creek watershed. Every Wednesday, Stout collects samples from the intake and outtake and sends them to ISU for water quality testing. “Being a good farm neighbor means being able to lead in examples like conservation,” said Stout. “Community can’t exist without a good group of leaders, and we should all do our part by doing something that interests us to support each other.”
In addition to his leadership with the local watershed, Stout has served in roles with the Washington Concert Association, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and the West Chester Methodist Church. Stout and his wife, Jean, are active members of the West Chester Lions Club. Each year, they donate a hog to be auctioned off on in support of the West Chester First Responders, West Chester Heritage Association and Mid-Prairie Feed the Kids Program.
Stout is a member of the Wallaces Farmer Timely Tips panel, answering farmers’ questions about various farm management related topics in the column each month in the magazine.
You can nominate someone for this award
The Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award, presented by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and Iowa Ag Radio Network in partnership with the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers, is awarded to Iowa farm families who raise livestock. It’s given in honor of the late WHO radio farm broadcaster, Gary Wergin, and recognizes families who take pride in being good neighbors and stewards of the land.
The Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers was created more than 10 years ago by farmers to help farmers raise livestock responsibly and successfully. It’s a joint partnership involving the Iowa Beef Industry Council, Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Pork Producers, Iowa Poultry Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Turkey Federation and Midwest Dairy Association.
Banwart is an assistant field specialist with the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers.