One of the first “circles of life” we created on our farm was made possible when the POET Bioprocessing – Corning facility came to town. My family, like many of our neighbors in southwest Iowa, grows corn. In 2005, we were among the first investors in the local POET project because we knew it would open doors for our corn to become, well, more than just corn.
When the plant opened in 2007, we began delivering our corn there. POET turned that corn into bioethanol and distillers grains. Those distillers grains went to feed livestock in our area, and we, in turn, closed the circle by working with our livestock-producing neighbors — including a local egg-laying operation — to get manure to fertilize our next crop of corn.
In the process, the POET plant gave a big boost to our local economy. Everyone within 30 miles of the plant, whether they invested or not, saw an increase of at least 15 cents per bushel in base price. The plant created 40 or so good-paying jobs for the area, plus we were able to add value to the corn we grew with a new market. We were expanding our circles.
Today my wife and I have almost completely transitioned management of the family farm to the next generation, our son and daughter-in-law. Together, we have always looked for ways to expand our circles of life — to use and reuse or recycle resources to get better results, in terms of land, production, and profitability. Often, these circles are made possible through partnerships with individuals and businesses in the community. In our case, that includes POET, the Revelton Distillery in Osceola, Iowa (to which we now supply rye), and livestock producers.
Most recently, we have expanded our circles by working with our neighbors with cows. Last year our neighbors grazed about 250 cows on our cover crops and corn stover from late fall through winter. This year we’re looking to bring on at least 350 cows. We get the benefit of the cow fertilizer spread across our fields as well as help covering the cost of cover crop seed. The cattle producers get the benefit of reducing their need for and cost of hay.
The best part of these partnerships is that each entity benefits in compounding ways. Some of our circles of life even benefit the general public. Bioethanol creates a cheaper energy source for consumers. Improving soil health, like we do through no-till, cover crops, and animal impact, results in cleaner water downstream, with rains soaking more directly into Earth’s natural
Agriculture, through all these circles, becomes a multifaceted source of solutions to some of the greatest challenges our planet faces: climate change, water, biodiversity, food and nutrition, clean energy, and more.
It makes sense for us to continue adding value to our agricultural products, to continue using resources wisely and efficiently, and to work together to accomplish more while reducing waste — to think in circles.
Iowa farmers are thinking more circularly together through Iowa Smart Agriculture, an initiative started by Solutions from the Land and Iowa State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. If you are interested in the conversation, we would love to hear from you! Learn more at solutionsfromtheland.org/iasa.