File photo (The Daily Iowan/Osama Khalid)

Guest Opinion: Healthier soil is key to cleaner water

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Moratorium on livestock expansion would be a serious mistake.

I spent more than six years as a commissioner on the Environmental Protection Commission. Members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement spoke at most of our meetings in favor of cleaner water, and their solution was a moratorium on livestock expansion. I admire their goal of cleaner water — something we all want — but I disagree with their solution.

The solution to cleaner water is healthier soil. Healthy soil has great water-holding ability and retains nutrients. We get healthier soil by using organic fertilizer produced from livestock, using less tillage, and planting cover crops. I would like to quote National Resources Conservation Service soil-health specialist Doug Petersen: “There is no agronomic or economic reason for tillage to be justifiable anymore. It destroys everything that restores soil function.”

We have not done any whole-field tillage on our farm in Lyon County for more than 10 years. Our farm is not only more environmentally friendly but more profitable today because of that. My suggestion for my fellow farmers is to start your efforts toward cleaner water with reduced tillage and more cover crops instead of waiting for funding for edge-of-field practices. There is no time like the present.

ISU engineer Dan Andersen said crop yields and subsequent demand for manure is increasing faster than current livestock expansion rates. Iowa needs more livestock, not a moratorium. Sioux County, for example, is the No. 1 county in the state for livestock with more than 1 million pigs, 8 million chickens, and 400,000 head of cattle. Sioux County consistently ranks among the top five counties in Iowa in health outcomes, lowest unemployment, youngest average age of farmers, and greatest population growth of all rural counties. If we want to give young people a chance to farm, see our schools, churches, and main streets grow while helping our soil become healthier, we need livestock.

— Gene Ver Steeg

Inwood, Iowa

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