Emily Boettcher
Emily Boettcher never planned to make a career out of farming. Nine years later, she is enjoying every moment.

By Iowa Cattlemen’s Association

Emily Boettcher is a regular at the local Starbucks. She is the proud owner of a rewards card, the baristas know her by name, and she places her order by asking casually for “the usual.”
But when she takes her coffee to go, she’s not headed to an office. Emily spends her days on the farm, caring for cows, calves and customers of the family’s DeKalb seed business.
Emily never planned to make a career out of farming.
A 2009 graduate of Northwestern University, she majored in sociology and criminal justice, and dreamed of being a police officer. But, like in many other rural areas, off-farm jobs were hard to find, so Emily went home and replaced a retiring hired man. Nine years later, she’s still working full-time on the farm.
Emily and her father, John, work side-by-side on their diversified row-crop and cow/calf operation in Dickinson County, Iowa. They also have a seed dealership, selling Dekalb Asgrow seed.
The farm, nestled amongst Iowa’s Great Lakes, has always been diversified, although it has changed over the years. In the 1980s, Boettchers had hogs and dairy cattle, but in 1997, they sold the dairy cattle and began their beef herd.

The Cow Herd
The Boettcher’s have a commercial herd with Angus sires. Their goal, John says, is to produce calves that perform well. “I want to sell the calves that perform the best for the guy that buys them. I want to know that they succeed as a feedlot steer,” John says. “I’m not breeding cattle just so I get numbers to sell.  I want the best quality to sell.”
The herd calves beginning around April 1, in the old dairy stanchion barn or the pasture near the home place. This year, the weather was still winter-like in April in northern Iowa. “During those snowstorms,” Emily says, “we were going out every 2 hours checking our babies and making sure everything was good out there. And in the end, we didn’t lose any.”
With 9 heifers left to calf in early June, a new brockle-faced calf made his debut on the day ICA visited.
“My cows are my babies,” Emily says. “When I go out there, I talk to them, I try to pet them all, I praise them when they have a baby. They’re my kids and it’s the greatest reward ever, working on the farm.”
Many of the calves go directly to a nearby feedlot producer after being Green Tag Pre-Conditioned.

EQIP usage
Three years ago, the Boettchers worked with NRCS EQIP funding to dig a well in a rented pasture. The well is nearly 500 feet deep, much deeper than the Boettchers had planned, but according to John, the fresh water has made a difference in herd health.
Although the pasture has a small pond, water quality often suffered in the heat of the summer. Now, even though there are no fences to keep the cattle out of the pond, they generally avoid it, preferring the well water.
The well is solar-powered, since the pasture is almost a mile from any electric lines. A 1500 gallon storage tank collects water for days when it is too cloudy to run the pump. The Boettchers also use solar fencers in that pasture.

Innovation and Early Interseeding of Rye
John and Emily aren’t afraid to try new things.
John was an early adopter of strip tilling, and several years ago, the duo added cover crops to their operation. John says they are able to capture some feed value by grazing and baling, but they also see soil health benefits from the perennial cover.
Last year, using a bit of classic farmer resourcefulness, John modified a rotary hoe and air seeder in order to plant rye into standing corn in late spring. Early interseeding of rye allows the plants to sprout before the corn creates a canopy of shade.
“In the summer, annual rye goes dormant,” Emily says. “It doesn’t hurt the corn at all.”
Then, when corn is harvested and the rye can again see sunlight, the plant growth takes off, providing ample opportunity for grazing in the fall.
And, in an extremely environmentally sensitive area of the state, the rye also scavenges leftover nutrients in the fall, holding them in organic form until the rye breaks down in the spring, at which point the nutrients are available for the next crop.
Family relationships on the farm
Christy Boettcher, John’s wife and Emily’s mom, Christy, has never worked on the farm, and that was by design. The Boettchers, as newlyweds, recognized that farming can strain a relationship, so Christy has always worked off the farm.
Now, the father and daughter duo of John and Emily have some of the same challenges that married couples have on the farm, but they’ve been able to make it work so far.
“I’m thrilled to work with my daughter and that someday she will be running our operation,” says John. “Most of our seed clients and friends would tell you Emily’s the hardest working woman they know.”
Emily plans to take over the farm and seed business when John retires, but that isn’t an easy proposition. The farm has grown over the years and transferring ownership of the assets is going to be an ongoing process.
“My wife and are looking at retirement in the next 5 years, we’re hopeful that we can transition it over to Emily operating the farm full time.”