Randy and Denise Eddy  are Iowa’s 2018 Environmental Stewardship Award Winners.
Randy and Denise Eddy are Iowa’s 2018 Environmental Stewardship Award Winners.

 

 

 

The 2018 Iowa Cattlemen’s Association Environmental Stewardship Award Program winner has always valued the land and the animals – livestock and wildlife – who depend on it. Son of a longtime soil and water district commissioner, Randy Eddy has been on the forefront of conservation measures for his whole life.

From a large-scale biomass energy venture to smaller, independent projects to improve his farm, Eddy never shied away from innovation or initiative in the name of conservation and his cattle operation. 

As president of Chariton Valley Beef, his eye towards the future led to an information-sharing initiative between sectors of the industry that was ahead of its time.

And when other Iowa farmers converted their pasture to row-crop ground because of high corn prices, Eddy did the opposite. Forgoing the increased profit potential of continuing to raise row crops on his land, he converted it into pasture for the sake of soil heath and water quality.

As a respected leader in Iowa’s cattle industry, Eddy’s decades of improvements will have a lasting impact on the land he manages and the larger Iowa cattle industry for years to come.

Randy and Denise Eddy operate the Appanoose County farm established by Randy’s parents 60 years ago, in 1958. The majority of the farm is used as hay or pasture ground for Eddy’s cow/calf operation. Approximately 150 acres of flat ground are leased to a row-crop farmer, and 250 acres of former row-crop ground have been converted to pasture. About 65 acres are standing timber.

 

Converting 

Row Crop Land

Row-crop production is the principal use of land in Appanoose County (and much of Iowa) and approximately 21% of Iowa’s pastureland was converted to cropland from 2007 to 2012. Rising corn prices during that time made row-cropping a more profitable endeavor than raising cattle. However, during that same time frame, Eddy converted between 250 and 300 acres of former row-crop land into pasture, forgoing the profit opportunities in favor of increased conservation and sustainability.

Fields susceptible to erosion were seeded down with alfalfa initially, and slowly transitioned to pasture when the alfalfa stand thinned and Eddy added other varieties of grasses and legumes.

Changes in land-use, especially in the rolling hills of southern Iowa, have an enormous effect on environmental sustainability. As row-crop land is converted to pasture or grassland, nitrogen losses are cut by approximately 85% and phosphorus losses cut by 59%.

 

Renovating 

Former Mines

The Cooper Creek valley once contained sand strip mines, which left a wasteland in their wake. Eddy and his father rehabilitated the former mines in the 2000s, utilizing their own heavy equipment to fill in the pits and convert the landscape to pasture.

With the hillsides stabilized, the Eddys seeded them down and then used their cows to help improve the soil over the years. Eddy reports that rolling out hay bales strategically on the fragile land helped deposit cattle manure where needed, improving soil health while minimizing outside inputs.

 

Switchgrass

Eddy and his father began planting switchgrass to diversify their pasture, provide wildlife habitat and improve soil health. In addition to haying and grazing the switchgrass, they also harvested the seed and sold the stover to the state of Iowa to use in mulching roadside plantings.

In the mid-1990s, Eddy took part in an innovative research project to lay the groundwork for commercial biomass energy production.

Working with local agricultural groups as well as federal cost-share programs, more than 40 farmers planted switchgrass to be used as a replacement for coal in a local electricity plant.

After several years of research and shorter test burns, a three month test burn of switchgrass was completed at the Ottumwa Generating Station in Chillicothe, Iowa in 2006. During that period, the test burn generated nearly 20 million kilowatt-hours of electricity from the renewable switchgrass fuel, a world record. The electricity generated would power nearly 2,000 average Iowa homes for an entire year.

The experiment also reduced emissions of the primary greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2), by more than 50,000 tons. A combination of reductions from the power plant and absorption of carbon dioxide from the air during the switchgrass growth cycle contributed to this reduction. Switchgrass stores a portion of the carbon it absorbs in its root system, which also improves soil health.

Although switchgrass powered electricity was not able to gain traction, the biomass project helped producers like the Eddys improve conservation practices over a 10 year period and many of those benefits are still in place today. The Eddys currently have 60 acres of solid switchgrass as well as thinner stands throughout other pastures. The switchgrass provides habitat for wildlife, revitalizing hunting in the area.

 

Wildlife

As an active bow hunter, Eddy has made choices throughout the years that maximize the habitat and food available to native wildlife. The standing switchgrass provides habitat for grasshopper sparrows, sedge wrens, northern harrier, ring-necked pheasant and common yellowthroats. Rabbits and deer also seek refuge in the switchgrass.

Eddy has also planted food plots for wildlife throughout the farm. The food plots are primarily alfalfa based, and provide forage for deer and other wildlife. The plots are scattered throughout Eddy’s land, encouraging deer to move from location to location, allowing for better hunting.

Trail cameras on the farm show proof of robust pheasant, quail, deer, river otter, wild turkey and even bobcat populations in the area. Bald eagles nest in the area and can frequently be seen flying overhead.

Throughout the state of Iowa, there has been a large initiative for the conservation of monarch butterflies, because of a significant decline in the monarch population worldwide for the past decade. Farmers in Iowa have had a hand in helping the butterflies by creating lush plant habitats for monarchs to nest and live during their migrational period, and milkweed flourishes in Eddy’s switchgrass stands, providing valuable pollinator habitat.

Eddy also has three large, natural bee-hives on his property. He believes that the plant diversity in his pasture helps to support these bee colonies.

 

2018 Award

It is all of these initiatives and more that led the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association Environmental Stewardship Award committee to select Randy Eddy as the 2018 winner.

Randy Eddy’s niece, Lyndsay Harshman, an assistant professor and doctor at the University of Iowa hospitals, summed up the impact Eddy and others like him have on not just Iowa’s cattle industry, but the well-being of the entire state. 

“My generation is indebted to the ‘Uncle Randy’s’ of America – those men (and women) who not only farm this country but in doing so have sought ways to make their land better for future generations and improve the yield on their animal product in the short term as well. Randy has shown our community again and again that when we put our land as a priority, the quality of one’s cattle also rise to the top.”