Jones SWCD marks 75 years of conservation practices

During the Jones Soil & Water Conservation District’s 75th anniversary luncheon, several awards were handed out. The Jones County Conservation Farmer of the Year went to Paul and Kim Specht. They are pictured here with Joe Wagner (right), SWCD commissioner. (Photos by Kim Brooks)

The $400 SWCD scholarship recipient this year is Cole Fishwild, son of Scott and Sarah Fishwild. Presenting the scholarship is Julie Orris, chair of the Jones SWCD.

The $400 SWCD scholarship recipient this year is Cole Fishwild, son of Scott and Sarah Fishwild. Presenting the scholarship is Julie Orris, chair of the Jones SWCD.

Julie Orris, Jones SWCD, accepts a check for $650 from Sherri Hunt, Jones County Community Foundation. The funds stem from the SWCD’s endowment. Since the fund was established in 2013, Hunt said it has grown by 57 percent.
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     The Jones Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) marked its 75th anniversary on March 24 with a banquet, lunch and awards ceremony at the Jones County Youth Development Center.

     With roughly 40 people in attendance throughout the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. event, some presentations were made by Paul Specht about the history of Jones SWCD; and Jim Gillespie, Iowa Department of Agriculture and land Stewardship, about the future of soil and water conservation in Iowa.

     Rep. Lee Hein and Rep. Andy McKean were also present to congratulate Jones SWCD on their years of service in Jones County. McKean said Jones County is lucky to be represented by Hein and Sen. Dan Zumbach, both chairs of the agriculture committees in the House and Senate.

     Specht started his history lesson with remarks from Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey regarding the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy: “It’s voluntary,” said Specht, “but not optional.”

     The idea of soil and water conservation was built out of the 1930s Dust Bowl. In 1935, the federal government passed the Soil Conservation Act.

     Soil erosion and severe drought conditions throughout the plains, caused widespread crop exposure and failure.

     “Farmers saw a need to handle soil blowing and washing away,” explained Specht.

     In 1942, the Jones SWCD was established. The long-held conservation poster contest started in 1947, and is still being held today, with winners announced every year at the Earth Day Fair.

     Specht said he could remember entering the poster contest himself in the 1950s while attending country school in Jones County.

     “I did win the contest,” he said reluctantly.

     In the 1950s, technology was being developed to assist in the chore of laying out contour lines in fields.

     “It was not computer driven,” said Specht. “You had levels and a tripod and flagged fields.”

     Strip-cropping was also introduced as part of contour farming.

     “This was seen as very beneficial,” said Specht.

     In 1963, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman came to Iowa. His only stop in the entire state was Jones County.

     “He was here to see various conservation practices,” said Specht. “And Jones County was involved in a cost-sharing program for tiling. We recognized a way to help save soil, and to have soil that could absorb water versus run-off the surface.”

     Specht said the county was also establishing grass waterways that connected between row-crop farming.

     In 1970, Melvin Hein led an air tour from the Monticello airport to show off conservation efforts. Specht said over 80 people took part in the event.

     It was also around this time that Bill Hintz developed the concept for no-till planting.

     “It was a revolutionary idea at the time,” praised Specht. “It was a big deal in the ‘70s.”

     In the 1980s, a 3-inch rain fell in Jones County. Specht said that highlighted the need for tiling and contour farming even more.

     In 1981, the Jones SWCD asked farmers to voluntarily sign a pledge saying they would not till their ground until after the fall.

     “You don’t increase your yields by tilling your ground in the fall,” explained Specht. “It exposes soil to erosion every year.”

     Because of that effort, Jones SWCD won a national award as an outstanding conservation district in the country.

     In 1984, RAGBRAI came through Jones County via E-16 near Monticello. Specht said riders termed E-16 “conservation road” due to the practices various farmers were exhibiting along that stretch of roadway.

     “It helped to educate people from all over the country and they saw what farmers were doing to conserve soil.”

     In 1985, two big events took place: the passing of the U.S. Farm Bill and a devastating economic recession.

     “It was also the beginning of the CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) program we still have today,” said Specht.

     In 1992, Jones SWCD celebrated its 50th year of service.

     The watershed concept was also developed, which is still used today throughout a township or multi-county area.

     Today, Specht reiterated Northey’s Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy: “It’s not optional,” he said. The idea is to reduce the nutrients that enter the state’s waterways, eventually going into the Gulf of Mexico. According to its website: “It is designed to direct efforts to reduce nutrients in surface water from both point and nonpoint sources in a scientific, reasonable and cost effective manner.”

     Specht said the goal is to reduce the nutrient and phosphorus levels across the state by 45 percent within the next 20 years. “It’s a tough road to get to,” he said. “Farmers have to recognize the changes to bring the total down of nutrients leaking into our water.”

     Gillespie said Iowa has 36 million acres. Of that, 30.5 million is made up of farmland. He said that is why conservative farm practices are so important.

     “We are the only state with a science piece tied to our strategy,” praised Gillespie. “Various practices and benefits have been science proven”

     Awards were also handed out during the celebration banquet. Paul and Kim Specht were given the Conservation Farmer of the Year award for their safe farming practices. Jones SWCD Commissioner Joe Wagner said the Spechts have been practicing no-till farming since 1982 with corn, and since 1993with soybeans.

     “I’m fortunate that my family was conservation-minded,” said Specht of his family history in farming.

     Pauline Antons, assistant commissioner, presented Chelsea Arensdorf with the Conservation Teacher of the Year award. Arensdorf is the FFA advisor for Anamosa High School. She said their FFA club practices conservation efforts with their test plots of land.

     Cole Fishwild, son of Scott and Sarah Fishwild, received a $400 scholarship from the Jones SWCD. Fishwild plans to attend Kirkwood Community College in the fall for ag production.

     Sherri Hunt with the Jones County Community Foundation also presented the district with a check for $650, funds that have been earned from the endowment fund.

     For more on Jones SWCD, visit


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