Farmers care about water, too
Waterworks team speaks up for ag
FORT DODGE – It hasn’t been smooth sailing since the Des Moines Water Works filed a lawsuit earlier this year to sue the drainage districts of Calhoun, Sac and Buena Vista counties.
Enter the Wightman Waterworks, a group of farmers and neighbors who pulled together during the 19th annual Badger Lake Dragon Boat Bash in Fort Dodge on Aug. 9 to tell the other side of the story.
“We love to work and play in Iowa and care deeply about water quality,” said Lois Irwin, of Lohrville, team captain of the Wightman Waterworks, which debuted in 2015. “We’re all in the same boat when it comes to protecting this valuable resource.”
The 22-member Wightman Waterworks team represented an eclectic mix of farmers and civic leaders, along with an accountant, funeral director, educator, nurse, waitress, cosmetologist and contractor who live and work in the epicenter of the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit.
“We’re all proud to be Iowans and are committed to living, working and raising our families in this amazing state,” said Irwin, whose team donned neon tank tops and yellow hardhats featuring a “Stowe Away” theme, a reference to Bill Stowe, chief executive officer and general manager of the DMWW.
They donated an “Evening of Elegance,” including a limousine ride to Twin Lakes, a guided boat cruise and dinner, to the Dragon Boat Bash’s silent auction. “We want to make positive contributions and show that we want safe, clean water for all uses, including the Badger Lake Dragon Boat Races,” Irwin said.
Wightman Waterworks team members of all ages assembled to show the value of cooperation, rather than litigation.
“In a dragon boat, success is all about staying in sync,” said Deb Lighter, whose family farms near Lohrville near the former town of Wightman, which inspired the teams’ name. “When you pull together, the dragon boat gains momentum and just glides across the water.
“It’s the same with the water quality issue. We can make a lot more progress a lot faster by working together.”
Wightman Waterworks team members aren’t just talking and paddling. They’re putting conservation into practice on their farms.
Chuck Schmitt, of Lohrville, said he has enrolled acres in the Conservation Reserve Program and has installed terraces on his land to protect soil and water quality. “I’ve got grandchildren and want them to enjoy a healthy environment,” he said.
The Lightner family has implemented a number of conservation practices on its farm, including cover crops. Fall rye is seeded into their soybean acres to control erosion near Cedar Creek.
The cover crop also benefits their cattle, which calve on that land in the spring before the next crop is planted.
In 2015, the Lightners started side-dressing all their corn acres to better manage nitrogen and spoon-feed the crop at key times during the growing season.
Zac Lightner, who farms with his parents, Kris and Deb Lightner, said he applied a light rate of nitrogen before planting, followed by additional nitrogen around the V8 stage.
The Lightners also use nitrogen stabilizers to help keep this valuable nutrient in the root zone and prevent it from leaching.
“While splitting up your nitrogen application means you assume more weather risk,” Zac lightner said. “I like the concept when it comes to protecting water quality.” Lightner is a sixth-generation farmer and Iowa State University graduate who has farmed full-time since 2003.
“It has also allowed us to cut back on our nitrogen application rates,” he said.
While conservation is nothing new for the Lightners and many of their neighbors, they said they are always looking for ways to innovate and improve.
“When you look at the big picture, we’re just here for a short period of time,” said Lightner, who is raising his two children on the farm with his wife, Darci. “We want to work together, be good stewards of the land and protect water quality to benefit future generations of Iowans.”
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