Burlages honored as Conservation Farmers of the Year

Jones SWCD Chair Julie Orris presents the Jones County Farmer of the Year award to Marty and Stacey Burlage. From left: Assistant Commissioner Pauline Antons, Stacey Burlage, Marty Burlage, Orris and Commissioners Jeff Von Behren and Dave Aschbrenner. (Photo submitted)
Michelle Turner
Jones SWCD

     Knowing how to balance agriculture production with conservation is a skill Monticello farmer Marty Burlage has mastered, and his voluntary stewardship and land ethic ensures that our natural resources will be available for future generations. Marty and his wife, Stacey, are the 2019 recipients of the Conservation Farmer of the Year Award, sponsored by the Jones Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD).

     Jones SWCD Commissioners presented a plaque to Marty and Stacey on Oct. 11 at the Burlage farm office, where Stacey handles the finances and inventory, and Marty, a Certified Crop Advisor, manages production and their business Valley Road Seeds.

     Nominees for the award are judged on how they improve soil and water conditions, innovation, long-term commitment to stewardship, community leadership, and sustained economic viability.

     The Burlage family farms about 1,300 acres. Corn, soybeans, and hay are their primary crops, and they operate several feed lots.  Burlage plants his crops using no-till methods, improving on the tillage methods used on the farm in the 1990s. By coupling no-till practices with cover crops, he has improved water infiltration and soil health, increasing productivity.

     “Cover crops are the way to go”, said Burlage, who puts cover crops on all his cropland. He has been growing cover crop seed for three years, in addition to purchasing some, such as radish seed, for cover crop mixes. He said he keeps careful records and looks for obvious yield bumps due to the cover crops.

     The Burlages use many other conservation practices to protect the environment, each bringing its own measurable improvements. Grassed waterways and field borders trap sediment in runoff water and control sheet and gully erosion. The added vegetation also provides habitat for birds and small animals. Filter strips improve water quality by removing contaminants before they reach streams and other water bodies. Contouring, terraces, and diversions slow runoff water and carry it to a stable outlet.

     To further address soil erosion and water quality, the Burlages enrolled land in the
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).

     The farm’s roots trace back four generations. Marty is following in his father’s footsteps by using a mix of old practices and modern technology to leave the land in better shape for the next generation. His father, Robert, was local winner and nominee for the 1967 Iowa Soil Conservation Awards, sponsored by the Des Moines Register and Tribune, along with the Iowa Farm and Home Register.

     Promoting responsible land stewardship is the mission of the Jones SWCD and rewarding producers like Marty and Stacey, who have proven their dedication to conservation, give the SWCD the chance to recognize those who are doing the right things.



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