Practical Farmers of Iowa announced its 2011 Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award last week at the PFI annual meeting in Marshalltown. The winners are Tom and Irene Frantzen of New Hampton, Iowa. PFI grants this award annually to someone who has been most influential in creating vibrant communities, healthful food and diverse farms.
Tom began farming in 1974 when he rented his father's farm. Tom and Irene married in 1976 and purchased the farm in 1978. Tom is a past president and former board member of Practical Farmers of Iowa.
The Frantzens have been active members of PFI since the organization's beginning, according to PFI executive director Teresa Opheim. "The Frantzens have participated in more than 50 research trials and helped forge a path for other farmers to follow in attaining sustainability," Opheim says. "It is an honor to present Tom and Irene with our Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award."
They use seven-year crop rotation, grow certified organic crops
Tom and Irene own a widely diverse farm of 300 acres and rent an additional 85 acres. They grow certified-organic crops for animal feed for their 60-head beef-cow herd and a brood-sow herd of 40. Tom uses a diversified seven-year crop rotation of corn, soybeans, corn, succotash, hay, pasture and pasture.
The Frantzens also helped to launch Organic Meat Company, a wholly-owned subsidiary of CROPP COOP. Tom was the first participant in the Conservation Stewardship Program in Chickasaw county, currently being a Tier III participant. He and Irene operate their farm in accordance with their own five-year business plan, which they first wrote after attending a Holistic Resource Management course offered by the Land Stewardship Project. The plan is all about living one's values and maintaining quality of life, and for the Frantzens, that includes crop rotation, soil ecology and organic certification to better care for their land.
Tom will tell you he wasn't always a model of sustainability. "I had been farming conventionally for about five years, using liquid manure, pesticides and herbicides, but that all changed when the Pope visited Iowa and I heard him speak." Pope John Paul II visited Living History Farms in the fall of 1979. Tom was listening to a radio broadcast of the Pope when the Pope said, ". . . conserve the land well, so that your children's children and generations after them will inherit an even richer land than was entrusted to you."
Be a better steward of the land, preserve it for future generations
These words changed the way Tom and Irene would use their land from that day forward. "I realized at that moment that I could not continue to farm the way I'd been farming. I knew that I had to be a better steward of the land and do what I could to preserve it for future generations," Tom says.
Today the Frantzens control weeds for the most part through diversified crop rotation, a rotary hoe and a flame weeder. Tom uses pasture and crop residues for grazing sows rather than till them under and lose precious soil to erosion. He also uses a hoop house for organic hog production. The straw bedding used in the hoop house produces its own heat as it decomposes so that no additional, energy-consuming heating is needed. This preserves natural resources and reduces operating costs.
Many of these practices take a little more time and effort to implement, according to Tom and Irene, but they feel like it is worth the effort because it saves resources and is more rewarding in the long run.
The land has been good to them, and they are good to the land
"We have had and continue to have a good life on the farm. The land has been good to us and so we are good to the land," says Irene.
The Frantzens have three adult children who each played an integral part in making changes on the farm growing up. All three Frantzen children participated in the goal setting and business planning for the farm by contributing their ideas for improving the land. They also shared in the chores, on-farm trials, fieldwork, 4-H and FFA projects. Today, Jessica teaches students with emotional behavioral disorders in Minnesota, Jolene teaches vocal music in southwest Iowa and James lives in northeast Iowa and is the pork program coordinator for Organic Meat Company, headquartered in LaFarge, Wis.
"Farm life provides important life lessons," says Irene. "Each of our children will tell how much they appreciate growing up on the farm."
Opportunities to participate in trials, and learn from other farmers
PFI has been an important resource over the years, according to Tom. "Practical Farmers of Iowa is an extension of our family and the annual meeting is like a big family reunion" he says. "We appreciate the opportunities we've had to join PFI and work with other farmers and non-farmers alike, to participate in trials and demonstrations, to conduct farm tours, share knowledge and learn from others. We would not be where we are today if it weren't for PFI."
Tom and Irene were presented the award at Practical Farmers of Iowa's 2011 Annual Conference in Marshalltown, Jan. 8. PFI includes a diverse group of farmers and non-farmers. Corn, soybeans, beef cattle and hay are the top enterprises for PFI farmers, although many have a variety of other operations, including fruits and vegetables. PFI's programming emphasizes farmer-to-farmer networking through research and demonstration, field days, conferences and more. For more information, call 515-232-5661 or visit www.practicalfarmers.org.