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Protecting habitat, preventing erosion priorities for Schwarcks

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 10/16/2012 2:12 PM

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RICEVILLE, Iowa — John and Jordan Schwarck's priorities are preserving the soil and protecting wildlife habitat.

The father and son farm south of Riceville along the Wapsipinicon River. During a recent Iowa Learning Farms/Practical Farmers of Iowa/Mitchell County Soil and Water Conservation District field day, John explained why they decided to plant cover crops and start strip-tilling this fall.

"We had a much needed three-inch rain that soaked into the soil, but then a couple days later we had 1.5 inches of rain in 15 minutes and we had terrible soil erosion," John said. "We're looking at cover crops and strip-till to address erosion and to build up organic matter."

The Schwarcks are planting brassicas, a combination of rape seed and turnips, that will winterkill. They've been growing brassicas in wildlife food plots for 20 years. They purchase their seed from Albert Lea Seed House.

Their plan is to follow the combine with a no-till drill to seed cover crops. The Schwarcks are the first farmers in Mitchell County to sign up for EQIP cost-share funds for cover crops, John said.

John and his wife, Janine, who is administrative assistant at the Mitchell County Farm Service Agency office, have operated a pheasant hunting lodge on their farm since 1986.

For the first few years, the hunters stayed in the Schwarcks' home and Janine cooked them three meals a day.

"That just got to be too much so we built an actual lodge," John said. "Now we feed them breakfast, and they're on their own the rest of the day."

Because pheasant numbers are down, John will ease off for a couple of years to let bird numbers rebound.

Jordan and his wife, Kristin, and their two children, Leah and Benton, live at Nora Springs. Jordan works as a car salesman for Pritchard Family Auto Stores. He also works in outdoor videography. He hunts and films whitetail deer all over the Midwest for Whitetail Freaks TV, which airs on the Outdoor Channel.

It all ties together for Jordan.

"As a hunter you're an outdoorsman and a conservationist," Jordan said. "In order to preserve our habitat for wildlife, it all starts with the farmer."

John started farming his senior year of high school. He also works in the insurance and investment business with his father, Chris, in Mason City.

Chris moved to Riceville from central Iowa in 1955 to raise cattle. All the land along the Wapsi was pasture when John was a kid. Today, there aren't any cattle.

"We made a commitment to create habitat for wildlife," John said.

They have quite a bit of CRP ground, and plant a variety of food plots for deer.

"There's been a lot of plows put to CRP on account of high land values and high grain prices," Jordan said. "We feel it's our responsibility as conservationists and outdoorsmen to look at the big picture for the next generation. If we want to have a place to enjoy the outdoors — whether it's hunting or fishing or any outdoor activity — it's out responsibility as farmers and stewards of the land."

"I feel blessed to live here," John said. "I can enjoy wildlife right out my back door."

During the 2008 flood he saw a mountain lion from his deck, and he's also seen migrating Sandhill cranes.

The Schwarcks will create their strips with a Krause Gladiator strip-till rig, which John hopes to use for custom jobs as well.

"We take advantage of all the modern technology from GPS guidance to variable rating," Jordan said.

They will split apply nitrogen by putting on 85 pounds of anhydrous with their strip-till rig in the fall and side dressing the rest in the summer with a Hiniker cultivator.

"Our intent is to reduce our fertilizer usage by 30 percent," John said.

They use a Caterpillar Challenger track tractor. The single tracks eliminate the pinch-row effect. They will also implement controlled traffic patterns.

"By today's standards we're pretty small farmers," Jordan said. "We're both working day jobs, and we're always looking for ways to improve our farming operation and make it more profitable."

The Schwarcks can't say enough good things about the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Mitchell County.

"They have a lot of good programs, and the staff is wonderful to work with," Jordan said.