In Episode 17 of the Iowa Learning Farms Conservation Chat, host Jacqueline Comito sat down with Paul and Nancy Ackley to discuss how their interest in conservation and restoring the health of their farm led to changing how they farmed in Taylor County, Iowa over the past 40 years. One big driver for the couple was knowing that much of the land in hilly Taylor County was degraded and prone to erosion. To keep more of that soil in place, Paul and Nancy sought to increase organic matter in the soil through the use of no-till and cover crops. Now that they have several areas of soils with 4% organic matter and continue to plant cover crops, they are seeing a big change between their fields and other fields in their county.
“One thing for me that’s always resonated . . . when you drive down the road, and we have terraces standing full of water and there’s all green rye above it, and you go by [another] place, they’ve done full-blown tillage and it looks like chocolate malt ran down the hill. Pretty soon, it begins to click in your mind.”
That change didn’t come easily. No-till farming went against what Nancy’s parents had done and what Paul’s professors at Iowa State had taught him in the 1960s. The Ackleys talk about the mindset that many farmers have about tilling, and how some farmers find it hard to get past their desire to see the dark soil and smell the overturned earth after tilling. The Ackleys, however, don’t like to see the dark soil in their ditches.
Paul described how he views erosion and soil degradation as a metaphor for dollars flowing directly off of their farm:
“There’s an amazing amount of dollar value in a 1% increase in organic matter. I doubt that there are very many farmers who don’t go over their bank statements . . . If there was a withdrawal and there’s no explanation, which is what erosion is . . . that’s our main issue with soil degradation. If we think about it like that, then it becomes easier.”
Visit the Conservation Chat Website to hear Paul and Nancy’s journey through 40 years of farming in southwest Iowa, and their advice for first-time no-tillers and first-time cover croppers. You can find many more episodes of the Conservation Chat podcast, including interviews with Dr. John Lawrence, Dr. Rick Cruse, and more.