WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — Promoting good neighbor-to-neighbor relations is a key component of the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers’ approach to responsible livestock production.
To showcase the example set by Iowa livestock farmers who go above and beyond as environmental and animal stewards, and valuable members of their communities, CSIF sponsors the Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award, presented monthly to an Iowa farm family.
The award was created in 2003 and is named in memory of Gary Wergin, long-time WHO Radio farm broadcaster. Wergin created the award and began honoring farmers shortly before his death, and it is presented by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and Iowa Ag Radio Network with support from CSIF.
“Outreach is part of our mission, and this is one of the best ways we can tell the story,” says Gabrielle Glenister, CSIF assistant field specialist who coordinates the program. “There are so many deserving farmers who are engaging in the latest conservation and animal care practices and we encourage all Iowans to notice, and nominate those good folks for this award.”
More than 140 Iowa farm families have received the honor since its inception.
Rick and Beth Oshel of Clarke County received the Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award in March of this year. The Oshels are known for their conservation example. “We strictly follow the conservation plan we developed, taking the time to farm on the contour and create grass waterways and grass turn rows,” says Rick Oshel. “A conservation audit several years ago led to rewriting the plan. The Oshels’ commitment to conserving and improving their natural resources has led to the strict adherence.
The plan calls for a 3-year meadow to 3-year corn rotation, with the first year of corn no till seeded into the sod. “We’re only working the ground 3 of every 6 years,” says Rick. Their hay and pasture ground support a 50-cow herd with an active rotational grazing plan. A system of ponds and basins provides livestock water and catches run-off.
But caring for the environment goes beyond the farm for the Oshels, who are active community members, always willing to lend a hand to those in need. As a Clarke County Cattleman, Oshel has spent many hours working to promote the beef industry and sweating behind the grill. As a banker, Rick says he often saw need and a way to step in and help others, while Beth has often responded to her neighbors’ needs through her kids’ acquaintances and activities. “It exposes you to other people and opportunities,” she says.
They both insist they are good neighbors because they have good neighbors, going about their work without fully realizing the impact they have on others by setting an example of conscientious farming and generous neighboring.
Iowa farms are diverse, and so are Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award winners.
From the Oshel’s 50 cows in Southern Iowa, to beef and dairy operations, to Colleen “Coke” Anderson’s 1,753 acres of farmland and chickens in Clay County to the north, the Good Farm Neighbor tradition stretches across the state and throughout all segments of livestock production. Anderson is the April recipient of the Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award.
Colleen and her husband Marvin created M&C Anderson Pullets in the 1960s, an operation that now produces 5 million pullets each year. Using ponds and grass waterways as part of their conservation plan, they also added hundreds of trees as windbreaks and erosion control along with more than 600 acres of CRP, filter strips and timber, and a patch of native prairie untouched by a plow.
Animal welfare and biosecurity come first at M&C Anderson Pullets, at Coke’s insistence.
Marvin, who died in 2007, and Coke were teachers before they began their farming adventure, and their community knows the benefit of their talents. They have provided teacher training and materials, set up and foundation for excellence and created a scholarship program. A new incubator at the Clay County Fair came from their donation, so kids can learn more about poultry, watching chicks hatch. Coke also claims a long list of industry and community involvement.
“The Wergin Good Farm Neighbor award is the perfect way for people like this to get exposure,” says Glenister. “It provides a way for people to see ag with a new perspective, to see what farmers are doing and what they are doing right.”
Good Farm Neighbors are nominated by fellow producers, neighbors, or industry professionals. A simple online form makes nomination easy and assures complete information. An online map shows the number of recipients in each county, and the counties that have yet to be recognized. “We would love to say we’ve had winners in all 99 counties,” says Glenister.
“More people are moving to rural areas who have a limited understanding of agriculture,” says CSIF Executive Director Brian Waddingham. “The best way we can teach them about what happens on the farm and why it matters to Iowa is to be good neighbors.”
Glenister says the Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award often comes with additional press coverage that helps spread the word about agriculture. “People get to see where their food comes from and that farmers work to protect the environment. So many of the farmers who receive this are so humble, and insist they don’t deserve it. But they do. Because they do things right. That’s what this award is and why it’s important. It’s to recognize those who go above and beyond on the farm, and in being involved in their communities.”
CSIF is celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2019. It was created by farmers to help farmers raise livestock successfully and responsibly. It’s a partnership involving the Iowa Beef Industry Council, Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Poultry Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Turkey Federation and Midwest Dairy Association. The non-profit, non-partisan organization aids farmers at no cost. CSIF does not lobby or develop policy. Farm families wanting a helping hand can contact the coalition at 800.932.2436 or supportfarmers.com.
— Terri Queck-Matzie for CSIF. Queck-Matzie is a freelance writer from Greenfield
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