(CLIVE, Iowa) - A Washington County pork producer is the winner of the Iowa Pork Producers Association's 2017 Iowa Environmental Steward Award.
Rob Stout of Washington received a trophy, a $2,500 cash award and the recognition of his peers during last night's 46th annual Iowa Pork Congress Banquet in Des Moines. A multi-media presentation of his farm operation also was shown.
Stout began farming nearly 40 years ago with his father, Bob. Rob receives pigs from shares in Wellman Feed Pig, Inc., and finishes nearly 9,000 pigs annually. He also farms about 1,100 acres of corn and soybeans. Following Bob's passing in 2015, Rob was joined in the farming operation by his stepson, Alex Zimmerman.
Rob worked with Iowa State University in the mid-90s to establish research plots evaluating nitrogen availability in his swine manure. The results gave him the confidence to reduce application rates while still providing crop needs. Rob and Alex are certified manure applicators and inject all their own manure, waiting until soil temperatures are below 50 degrees to begin application. Stout applies roughly 120-150 lbs. of nitrogen from manure in the fall with soil and manure samples analyzed to determine additional side-dress applications or rate adjustments. Pig diet adjustments have reduced the amount of phosphorus in the manure, resulting in manure not quite meeting P needs for the following corn crop. Each field under Rob's management receives manure every 2nd or 4th year. By using manure, Stout estimates he saves $30,000 to $40,000 annually in fertilizer costs and soil health is improved.
Stout utilizes several different conservation practices. He has no-tilled all of the corn and soybean acres for the past 20 years to prevent soil erosion. Terraces were constructed on the farm in the 1980s, along with a pond, to control gully erosion. Thirty acres of the steepest ground are enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and riparian buffers have been established in other areas along streams. Grass waterways are used extensively to control erosion as well. Rob began experimenting with a rye cover crop in 2009 in a trial with Iowa Learning Farms, which evolved into a 10-year project comparing strips with and without cover crops. He began steadily increasing his use of cover crops to the point where he has established them on all of his acres for the last three years. He uses low disturbance manure injectors on the established cover crop, noting you can hardly notice where the applicator had been come spring. Rob believes that the cover crops have improved nutrient retention, soil health, organic matter and overall condition and the productivity of his farmland.
In 2014, Rob installed a sub-surface bioreactor to intercept drainage on 65 to 70 acres. It was the first farm-scale bioreactor south of I-80 in Iowa. The area around the bioreactor is enrolled in the pollinator habitat CRP program and is part of the ISU Prairie STRIPS program. Since installation, the bioreactor has reduced nitrate loss in the tile an average of 67 percent.
A 40-megawatt solar collector was installed in 2013 to offset power costs on the hog buildings and another 40 megawatts were added to a barn built in 2016. With benefits of net-metering, he estimates a five to seven-year payback on the solar equipment.
Neighbor relations are very important to Stout. The Stouts erected the hog building as far away from neighbors as possible. They established a visual screen of trees between the farm and the nearest neighbor. Rob also recently established pollinator habitat around the pig site for permanent vegetation. They communicate with neighbors when applying manure and do the "little things" to ensure they continue their positive status in the community.
Throughout his farming career, Rob has been very involved in agriculture. He is a member of the Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Corn Growers, Iowa Soybean Association (ISA), West Chester Lions Club and Practical Farmers of Iowa. He also has served on the Mid Prairie School Board, the S.E. Iowa Ag Research Association Board of Directors, the ISA Board of Directors, and the Washington Concert Association Board. Stout was a member of the New Alliance Farm Service Board for 27 years. He serves as a church trustee as well.
Rob has received numerous awards, including the Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award and the Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award. Rob worked with neighboring farmers to establish the West Fork Crooked Creek watershed project and has presented his conservation experiences at the Iowa Pork Congress and hosted or spoke at numerous conservation field days in efforts to educate other farmers and continue Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy momentum.
"Not only has Rob done a great job as a steward of the environment, he has also been a leader in his community for advancing soil and water conservation practices," said Greg Brenneman, ISU Extension ag engineering field specialist, in his nomination letter. "Rob has done this by example and with a willingness to share information and experiences with anyone. Always humble, approachable and bringing a positive attitude, Rob epitomizes what I think of as an environmental steward."
The Environmental Steward Award was established in 2007 by the IPPA Environmental Committee to recognize pork producers who go above and beyond in environmental stewardship. The selection committee judges the nominees on the producer's manure management, soil and water conservation practices, air quality strategies, wildlife habitat management and environmental management innovations.
The selection committee consists of representatives of the IPPA Board of Directors and the IPPA Environmental Committee, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and Pheasants Forever.