Kiss the Ground Stories: Meet Seth

“My job as a farmer is not to produce; my job is to care for the land. And when I do this properly, this provides for all of us.” – Seth Watkins (We love this guy!)

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Seth Watkins has impressive Iowa agriculture bona fides: He’s a fourth-generation farmer. He raises 600 cows and tends 3,200 acres east of Clarinda in southwest Iowa. His grandmother, Jessie Field Shambaugh, founded 4-H. Yet some Iowans have called him “nuts” for sowing grass where he could plant more corn, he told the Register.

Watkins has broken out of the two-crop cycle in which so many farmers are caught. He grows corn but also oats, alfalfa and cover crops. He grazes his cattle on pastureland, and about 400 acres of his land have been restored to prairie or set aside for ponds and protection of wildlife and streams. And he’s seen better financial returns as a result, he said, even if it comes at the cost of huge corn yields.

“My job as farmer is not to produce; my job is to care for the land. And when I do this properly, this provides for all of us,” Watkins, 48, told an audience this month at the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation’s Capitol Hill Ocean Week in Washington, D.C.

Why is an Iowa farmer talking to marine scientists about his farming practices?

Because they know what Watkins does in the Nodaway River valley affects places like the Gulf of Mexico. The “dead zone” — a region of oxygen-depleted water that harms shrimp and other sea life — is expected to be more than 50 percent larger than average this summer, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This spring’s heavy rains washed excess fertilizer from Midwestern fields down the Mississippi River into the gulf.

Politicians and ag leaders claim that Iowa farmers are making progress in addressing water pollution, but too much evidence shows it’s shamefully inadequate. We must change the incentives that create environmental problems — and also leave farmers with high costs for chemicals and low prices for grain.

The good news is there are solutions, as Watkins’ experience suggests. A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, backed by research from Iowa State University, suggests that shifting away from a two-crop system can help soil and water and farmers’ profitability.

Keep reading and learn how shifting from two-crop cycle can produce profits and environmental benefits via the The Des Moines Register: http://dmreg.co/2tHuRGd

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