(CLIVE, Iowa) - The Iowa Pork Producers Association has presented its 2016 Iowa Environmental Steward Award to a young Black Hawk County farm family.
Ben and Anna Bader of Jesup received a trophy and $2,500 cash award during last night's 45th annual Iowa Pork Congress Banquet in Des Moines.
The Baders are part owners and operators of Bader Farms with Ben's parents; Lee and Debra. Ben's current portion of the family-farm consists of a 1,000-head feeder-to-finish swine barn and 600 rented row-crop acres. Sows are owned and managed through a coop shares arrangement in conjunction with other producers.
Ben began his farming career in 2007, taking out an operating loan and renting 56 acres while still attending school. He graduated from Iowa State University in 2008 with a degree in ag systems technologies and returned home to farm full-time and buy into the family hog farm. He has since grown the grain and swine enterprise, engaged in a sow-shares arrangement, built a feed mill with his father, and started custom farming additional acres to offset equipment costs. He credits much of his success to maintaining a great working relationship with his landlords.
Bader has used his college degree to implement precision technology for fertilizer application and increased farm data analysis. Recently, half of Ben's acres were enrolled in the Pioneer Encirca program that provided data to make more informed decisions on side-dress fertilizer application. Ben collects his own soil grid samples and completes prescription mapping for nutrients.
Animal care is taken very seriously and Bader ensures the farm stays up-to-date on packer audit requirements, including PQA Plus and TQA certifications. He also completes a routine environmental review of the farm, ensuring a proper environment in the barn for pig comfort and growth.
Since Ben returned to the fam, the Baders no-till nearly all their soybeans and some corn. They have planted many grassed waterways, buffer strips and terraces to preserve water quality and improve soil health. They have enrolled acres in the Conservation Stewardship Program and are participating in pollinator programs. Ben also has begun experimenting with cover crops, noting exceptional germination from oats aerially seeded last fall.
The manure from Bader's swine barn supplies nutrients for about one-third of his crop acres, offsetting need for commercial fertilizer and adding to soil health. He figures the manure is worth about $93/acre in nutrient value, which he equates to roughly $18,600/yr. After his application cost, he figures this is roughly an $8/pig space advantage, improving the overall sustainability and economic viability of the farm. The Baders apply their own manure and are selective on application timing; taking neighbors, wind and soil temperature into consideration.
Neighbor relations are very important to Ben and Anna. As they planned to build the barn, Ben talked to all neighbors within one mile of the site to address any concerns they may have. He also prides himself in keeping the barn site clean, well mowed and free of rodents.
The fact that the family manages its own feed mill has motivated Ben to be prepared for Veterinary Feed Directive requirements that went into effect earlier this month.
While extremely busy on the farm, The Baders also have recognized the importance of sharing their message with consumers. Ben has been featured on the "Iowa Minute" and in local radio ads promoting conservation in agriculture. He also enjoys opportunities to discuss modern agriculture and farm safety at local schools and farm tours. Ben and Anna have hosted visitors from Chicago, New York and Japan, just to name a few. Ben also engages in IPPA promotional opportunities at the Iowa State Fair and sporting events to share positive ag messages.
Ben has assumed active roles in community and association efforts. He has served as a local parish council member, coop board member and county Farm Bureau president. Ben was recognized through Iowa Farm Bureau's Young Farmer Achievement award program in 2015. He also has traveled to Washington, D.C., and the Iowa Legislature to discuss farm policy.
Anna, a nurse by trade, now enjoys staying home with their 10-month-old daughter, Molly, who represents the fourth generation to live on the original family farmstead. This young farm family demonstrates the opportunity to continue improving Iowa's already sustainable and efficient livestock and grain production system.
"When Ben made the decision to come back to us, it was truly one of the best days of our farming career," said Ben's father, Lee. "I feel that Ben's enthusiasm for farming and conservation is the catalyst that keeps our operation on the forefront of being environmentally friendly."
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 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 the IPPA Board of Directors, the IPPA Environmental Committee and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and Pheasants Forever officials.