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‘It’s what we do’

By Staff | Dec 28, 2018

Mark Thompson, left and Brent Larson farm managers with Sunderman Farm Management look over plans for the 2019 growing season. Both were named environmental leaders in 2018.



Mark Thompson and Brent Larson were recently honored for their environmental stewardship efforts, both as farm managers at Sunderman Farm Management and for environmental practices performed on their own farms.

Thompson was presented the Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award last August at the Iowa State Fair.

The Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award recognizes the exemplary voluntary efforts of Iowa’s farmers as environmental leaders committed to healthy soils and improved water quality. It is a joint effort of the governor, lieutenant governor, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

According to IDALS, the award recognizes those that have taken steps in their farming operations that improve or protect the environment and natural resources of the state while also serving as local leaders to encourage other farmers to follow in their footsteps by building success upon success.

Thompson said receiving the award was very humbling.

“It’s just what we do,” he said. “It’s just what I do.”

Thompson operates a strip-till and no-till farm on close to 900 acres near Badger in Webster and Humboldt counties.

“We’re 100 percent no-till soybeans and mostly strip-tilled corn following beans and on acres of corn following corn,” he said. “We have been strip-till on corn on corn for a long time and we are possibly going to start making the transition to going all no-till. We have had some no-till corn on corn and no-till corn on bean ground already as well.”

Thompson also raises cover crops on his land and produces his own cover crop seed.

Most recently, he has been experimenting with relay cropping.

“This is where I raise a crop in another crop and harvest both of them,” Thompson said. “I planted soybeans into my rye and harvested the rye in July and harvest the beans in the fall.”

So far, this practice has been a successful one for Thompson.

“The yields were just as good as other beans and I even got a double crop from it,” he said. “I always like to try something different.”

According to Thompson, those are just a few practices that the Humboldt County Conservation District noticed to nominate him for the Iowa Farm Environmental Leader award.

“They know what I do,” he said. “They know my systems and then also what I do as far as putting on field days. I work with Iowa Learning Farms as one of their cooperators, so I have field days with them.”

On the professional side of being an environmental leader, Thompson said he and Larson are able to assist their clients/farmers with that personal knowledge and experience.

“We always feel like we make a big difference because we do it,” he said. “We’re not just telling people about it. We’re not reading about it in a book, or learning it in college and telling someone. We do it and that’s what I think is a part of being a leader. We lead by example.”

“We are unique in that we are trying some of these different things,” said Larson. “We aren’t just sitting back wondering if that will work. We are trying to lead the way with our own clients that are interested in it after we try it on our own farmland.”

Brent Larson

During the Iowa Soybean Association’s (ISA) annual awards banquet held earlier this month, Larson was one of seven individuals recognized for their commitment and leadership in the field of agriculture that benefits soybean farmers and the agriculture industry.

Larson received the Environmental Leader Award.

According to the ISA, the environmental leader award, sponsored by Peoples Co., was awarded to Larson in recognition of his commitment to practicing and promoting agricultural management practices that improve the environment.

Unaware of who nominated him for the award, Larson said it is great that people are noticing and appreciative that he, as well as the Sunderman Farm Management team, is going to that extra effort to be better stewards of the land.

“It’s what we normally do,” he said. “We are trying to stay on top of the latest water quality and environmental stewardship because everything we do is for the environment. If we take care of the environment, it will take care of us.”

The ISA stated that Larson shares new ideas, tools and information with the organization and frequently refers farmers and clients to the ISA’s Environmental Program Services (EPS) team as a resource for further conservation efforts. He works closely with the ISA on water sampling and is currently partnering with the EPS team and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to complete Resources Stewardship Evaluation on his family farm.

“We are turning our experience into expertise here at Sunderman Farm Management and that is just unique,” he said. “We have a level of experience of succeeding and failing on our own personal farmland where we have our own money at risk.”

Larson said he farms around 650 acres where he raises corn and soybeans as well as cover crops utilizing no-till soybeans and strip-till corn practices.

To help further diversify his family’s farm, they have been considering a three crop rotation that will include soybeans, small grains and a green manure cover crop of clover of alfalfa followed by corn.

“We are seeing if we can get the marketing set up for the small grains and just see how the economics of it all work,” he said. “The research that’s been done shows that this works really well with livestock.”

Larson, who said he was raised on a diversified family farm in Webster County, credits his father, Brian Larson, for spiking his interest in conservation and understanding the importance of utilizing environmentally sound farming practices.

“The status quo is not going to move us forward,” he said. “We can’t improve if we’re not trying something new. If we aren’t testing our water and trying cover crops and if we haven’t reduced tillage yet, we can’t get to these improvements if we don’t work on them on our own.”

Larson has these types of conversations with his clients, and he said most of them are very receptive.

“I utilize my on-farm experience to best serve my clients,” he said. “I help them look into the financial and environmental benefits of conservation practices.”

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