Conservation program allows Iowa farmer to make ‘practical changes’ to improve his operation

Published in Iowa Farmer Today on May 20, 2020 

Like many farmers, Dan Taylor of Dallas County, Iowa, is adjusting to the new reality under coronavirus. Thankfully, his family has not been touched by the virus, and he is moving forward with planting and conservation practices he had planned for this year.

It’s a routine he’s been doing every spring since graduating from high school in 1978 and going right to work after renting 80 acres of land.

He’s been farming ever since, about 9 miles from the farm he grew up on.

Dan, his wife Ila, and their sons Noah and Todd, run the family’s operation, which includes corn, soybeans, oats, hay, a cow herd, and calf finishing.

Over the years, Dan has always tried to make practical changes to improve the operation. In recent years, many of these changes have related to conservation.

After working with his local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff on several conservation projects, such as grassed waterways, crop rotation, and conservation compliance on highly erodible land, his local office recommended that he consider applying for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

Administered by NRCS, the program provides technical and financial assistance to help producers enhance conservation on their operations. Sign-ups for the program are currently underway in Iowa.

“[CSP has] a different concept than doing a practice and cutting a check,” Dan said. “This is something more ongoing. I like that.”

CSP contracts are awarded for five years and are eligible for a one-time renewal. Dan started his first CSP contract seven years ago, and is now in the second year of a renewed contract.

“I like the concept of being rewarded for putting a practice in place on working land,” Dan said. 

Since Dan had already started conservation practices, he was a great fit for the program because it allowed him to enhance already existing conservation efforts.

In the application process, Dan created a conservation plan with his local NRCS staff to address resource concerns on his operation. Once his contract was accepted, he implemented a variety of practices, including pasture growth monitoring, wildlife friendly haying management, late-season nitrogen application, and integrated pest management.

The program, he said, also motivated him to try out cover crops, no-till beans, and strip-till corn, practices he’s been implementing for three years.

“Being enrolled in CSP encouraged me to look into other things to do,” Dan said. “Not necessarily because I had to with the contract. I was more aware of people who were doing it and being successful.”

Dan says he’s already seen benefits from his combined practices, among them improvements in his soil health.

“This ground is so darn expensive, we’ve just got to take the best care of it we can,” he said. “It’s just dollars and cents. You’ve got to do the best you can.”

Since finishing his first contract and enrolling in a second, Dan has been satisfied with the program and believes more producers should consider enrolling in it.

After seeing the benefits of CSP on his father’s operation, Noah, who began farming his own land three years ago, decided to enroll in the program last year.

 “I think [CSP] is something positive going on out here that the word should be spread about,” Dan said.

CSP applications in Iowa will be accepted through May 29. Interested producers should reach out to their local NRCS office as soon as possible. Due to the coronavirus, NRCS will be conducting all business by phone or internet until further notice. When calling your local office be prepared to leave a detailed message, if prompted.

If you or someone you know is considering applying for CSP, please consider reaching out to the Center for Rural Affairs. We would like to know how sign-ups are going this year. Give us a call at 515.215.1294 or email us at kateh@cfra.org or annaj@cfra.org.