“Equity is critical. We've got to embrace it in everything we do. We have to be inclusive and we have to actively work to create opportunities to make new farmers and make more farmers of all kinds.”
— Seth Watkins, Cover Cropper, Southern Iowa
No matter where or what you farm, your operation can benefit from cover crops. Planting covers improves soil biology, increases water infiltration, saves money and more, brought to you by Montag..
In this episode of the podcast, Seth Watkins of southern Iowa joins us for a discussion about the benefits of incorporating cover crops into your operation specifically as a means to stay committed to improving soil health, conserving the land and keeping our waters clean.
The Cover Crop Strategies podcast series is brought to you by Montag Manufacturing.
Montag precision metering equipment is helping producers achieve their yield goals while saving on seed and input costs. For establishing cover crops, Montag’s family of seed platform equipment adapts to a variety of major brand delivery systems that will conserve seed and nutrients along with soil and water. Explore new options for your production and conservation goals with your Montag dealer, visit www.Montagmfg.com or call Montag at (712) 517-2775.
Welcome to the Cover Crop Strategies Podcast brought to you by Montag Manufacturing. I'm Mackane Vogel, assistant editor at Cover Crop Strategies. In today's episode of the podcast, Seth Watkins of Southern Iowa joins us for a discussion about the benefits of incorporating cover crops into your operation, specifically as a means to stay committed to improving soil health, conserving the land, and keeping our waters clean.
I did want to start with the land ethic and with what Leopold talks about. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. When Leopold talks about the land, he's talking about the soils, the waters, the plants, the animals. And I'm grateful to all of you for your commitment to serving the land that has served us all so well because I think that's really what we're here about today. To learn more ways to do that, to recognize what we've heard our speakers talk about, to recognize that this really is the kind of future we want to build.
As I thought about it. I hope I don't overdo quotes. But I was reminded of another quote that encourages me. Because when I started these practices, a lot of people ignored me when I advocated for the land. A lot of people laughed at me when I tried cover crops and thought I'd completely lost my mind when I reseeded hill ground to pasture for a bunch of damn cows. But I'm kind of encouraged.
And then I'm not sure if fights the right word because we're really fighting for all our futures. And sometimes... And we'll talk about human nature soon. This isn't about forcing someone to do something or forcing them to change their ways. This is about ideally coming together and building something that really gives us the future we deserve.
And like I mentioned before, I have become a Leo Wilson fan. He... I usually have to read his stuff really early in the morning when my brain's fresh. But as I looked at, it really is our human nature that we're working against. And literally thousands of years of ingrained behavior that makes us think some of the things we're doing is okay. And honestly... What I wrote was our current system is driven by human nature and ingrained attitudes and beliefs that the exploitation of people and destruction of natural resources is justified in securing the food we eat.
And like one of my friends tells me. He's a neat guy. He's a retired Navy SEAL. He said, "Scarcity is what creates conflict." And that's what we have a chance to do here. Instead of creating the future of scarcity, we have a future to create. A future abundance.
And when I look through that, I honestly... Listen, I don't want to get too radical. My parents were hippies. But I thought, "What is this that we're fighting?" And I thought I'd point a few things out that I see every day that just absolutely don't make sense. The carbon pipelines in Iowa. That's a mechanism to take carbon out of the ethanol producing process. But what blows my mind is it does absolutely nothing to actually put the carbon back in the soil where we need it. It does nothing to clean our water. It does nothing to restore our communities. Put the carbon pipeline in, we'll do 30 more years of ethanol. We'll have electric vehicles, and our soil will be gone. Our water will be polluted. And the irony of it is the primary use for carbon dioxide is it's the best thing to frak oil out of the ground. So we're just going to create a circle of more of that.
Sorry, guys. I know we think our system's supposed to be built on exports, but honestly bullying a third world country to buy GMO corn when they don't want to is... It can't be motivated by anything but greed. Some of this corn we're raising on land we shouldn't farm in the first place. It's their choice. It's their choice not to use it. And I think as neighbors, we need to step up and help them have better farming practices. Not do this. It's not right to the land, it's not right to our farmers.
And we talked about this one. If Farm Bureau is really a grassroots organization, remind them that supporting the use of a proven endocrine disruptor that really screws up anything we try to do with cover crops is not people, progress and pride. We're bound to them in Iowa. We have to use their products. We have to use their financial products. They say the Federation and Farm Bureau Financial are two separate entities, but I'm forced to buy membership in the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation to buy the products I have to have. The FCC calls this bundling. I think it against the law.
And I love John Deere equipment. But this year's award for craziest godlike technology has to be the autonomous tractor. And they spell it out really well. The autonomous tractor serves a specific purpose. Feeding the world. The global population is expected to reach about 8 billion to nearly 10 billion people by 2050, increasing the global food demand by 50%. That's all true. Furthermore, farmers must feed this growing population with less available land, less skilled labor, et cetera.
If we're losing the knowledge to farm, that's not a good future. This tractor is actually programmed with a chisel plow of all things. And the best thing of what I could put it is since we can't screw it up fast enough on our own, Deere stepped in with a robot to let us do it faster.
So I'm not doom and gloom. I want to talk about... And don't... All of you inspire me. Don't get this wrong. But I want to highlight a few farmers that I've met in the last year that embody the triumph of human spirit. That embody what I think it's going to take for us to move forward. And some of it also shows why I believe we've got to understand equity.
I'll start. I don't know if you're familiar with Global Greens in West Des Moines. These farmers are immigrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh. That lady had probably worked a full shift at another job. She hopped two or three buses to tend the land she cares for. And she completely humiliated me with her knowledge of agriculture, and the multiple crops she knew how to raise, and the functions of every plant she knew she was raising.
I'd like to take a moment to thank our sponsor, Montag Manufacturing. Montag Precision metering equipment is helping producers achieve their yield goals while saving on seed and input costs. For establishing cover crops, Montag's family of seed platform equipment adapts to a variety of major brand delivery systems that will conserve seed and nutrients along with soil and water. Explore new options for your production and conservation goals with your Montag dealer. Visit montagmfg.com or call Montag at (712) 517-2775. Now let's get back to the conversation.
I woke up about 10 years ago and realized one of the greatest tragedies of our farm belt is I could look at all of you and describe every nut and bolt on a John Deere baler or tractor. I can handle the Farm Bill and the intricacies of it with the skill and proficiency of the greatest bureaucrat. I can handle marketing like a Wall Street commodity. Like a Wall Street broker. And I can deal with technology like a Silicon Valley geek. You know what I realized I couldn't do? I didn't know how to raise a vegetable garden. And I'm supposed to be a farmer. I won't ask for any hands in the room with anyone that's in that same boat. I've started gardening and I have a long way to go. But that knowledge we can't afford to lose.
This is... I'll say his name wrong. I'll call him Reggie. Regenaldo Haslet Marquin and his free range chickens. Using indigenous knowledge, Reggie is building a community of farmers. They're sustainably producing food by incorporating a permaculture of fruit trees, nut trees, certain plants and poultry. And they're making money. They're making the land better. And this is the kind of future that I know will actually make... This is something we can hang our hats on. He's using sunlight, ingenuity and working with people.
And one of my personal favorites that I've been following online, because I think it is a triumph of technology, is Zack Smith. Ventured with a stock dropper. I think he calls it the Cluster Cluck 5000. That was the prototype. Maybe some of you know Zack. Truly building a circular economy on Iowa farmland by incorporating livestock in a smart manageable way. Where the livestock are allowed to express their natural interests, their natural instincts, regenerate our soil and rotate through his crops. His yields are working and the whole thing is just fantastic. His latest model I think is solar powered and autonomous. That probably wouldn't work real well where I am in southern Iowa. But the inspiration's there and it's got me thinking about what I can do.
So the question is how do we move forward? And a little background. A lot of the photos I took on the farm. One of the smartest things I ever did 20 years ago was put a [inaudible 00:09:45] camera on. And I tried to take a picture every day on the farm. And what I learned from that project. When I first bought it, I kind of wanted to do some of that. Let everyone see how special I was because I was a farmer. That's kind of the industry thing. And about two or three months in that project, I realized how lucky I was to have this as my vocation and how important everyone was to me in that system and how many people I relied on to make it work. And maybe it was through that camera lens that really helped me understand that we're all in this together.
But here's the number one. Policy's part of this. We are in a supply business. I do understand part of the government's influence. But we have to build. We have to demand a Farm Bill that rewards the regeneration of the natural resources we depend upon. We can't handle another five years of a Farm Bill that rewards farming highly erodible acres. We can't handle another five years of a Farm Bill that's creating scarcity of the natural resources and finite resources to depend upon. And another five years of a Farm Bill that's not only eroding our soil, but our ingenuity and our farmers.
Number two, equity is critical. We've got to embrace it in everything we do. We have to be inclusive and we have to actively work to create opportunities to make new farmers and make more farmers of all kinds. When we look at our farms, there's places out there we can do it. For our rural communities to grow, this is going to be essential. And it's possible.
And number three, we do need to use easements to protect the land we still have. Easements are the most tangible tool we have to protect the land that's served us so well. They're a tangible tool. When I put mine in, my first attorney says, "Well, you shouldn't do that. You'll uncover your title." And I said, "I want to protect the land." I fired the first attorney and got another one. We moved on. I explained to him. Well actually, here's who I have to explain it to.
Two groups opposed me doing an easement in Iowa. And it really surprised me what the two were. They were the Iowa Farm Bureau and the Iowa Cattlemen's Association. And I asked them. I said, "I've intentionally taken my pasture farm. I've encumbered the title. I don't know if I'll be there forever, but I know that now a young farmer has a chance to buy this at a fair price." They're not going to compete against developers, they're not going to compete against cropping. They're going to buy it for the value of pasture. I'm not saying it's a bargain, but if someone in this room can please tell me why the Farm Bureau and the Cattlemen's would oppose something like that, I love an explanation. I won. We still have easements. Felt pretty good.
And at the end of the day. I don't know if there's any Yellowstone fans in the room. I hope there are. I'm certainly a fan. Easements are just plain sexy.
So wrapping this up. My first speaking experience. Actually, Jerry Hatfield invited me to Winnipeg to talk about conservation. And I was about as nervous as I am today. And a lot of people kept asking me about money. Well, does this make more money? University says, "If you do this, you'll make more money." Well, we know if we do everything the university says, we'll spend $5 to make $3. So money's not everything.
Now don't get me wrong. You have to be profitable, be sustainable. But it's also about some of your goals. And when I'm at the meeting that Jerry had me at, I said, "Maybe some of you'll take this the wrong way. But really my financial goals were just to send my daughter to a good college and have enough the money to buy a six pack every Friday night." And I took this picture right before I left, and those goals are coming true. Tatum got accepted to Grinnell College the day before I left.
And Spencer and I have some big plans. I'm trying to figure out how to make our farm smaller. We're going to have... We've added some chickens, which is right up his alley. It gives him purpose. Agriculture should be about purpose. About what you can do. We're going to get some sheep. We want to see... I'm going to have to learn a new hat. More about marketing, which I'm really not looking forward to. Consumers scare me to death. But we have to continue to get out of our comfort zones. And I'm going to be able to have more time with Spencer, which means a lot to me. And I'm going to have more time.
And Spencer always... He shouldn't surprise me anymore. His insight and ability are pretty good. But I'm going to have more time to help him work on something that works. That matters very much to both of us. Which when he was little... He did this one day. And I said, "Spencer, if you were President, what would you do?" And he says, "As President, the first thing I'm going to do is work to keep our water and our rivers clean." And that's what we're going to do. And that means a lot to me.
And that's just a picture of the valley below my farm. And I just want to close again and thank all of you for your commitment to the land that serves us so well.
Thanks to Seth Watkins for today's presentation. The full transcript for this episode is available at covercropstrategies.com/podcasts. Many thanks to Montag Manufacturing for helping to make this Cover Crop podcast series possible. From all of us here at Cover Crop Strategies, I'm Mackane Vogel. Thanks for listening.