Camping & Conservation

Iowa is home to more than 4,700 overnight campsites. All summer, these camping spots fill with families eager to sleep under the stars and make cherished memories.

Camping is synonymous with summertime for the Renner family. Whether if it’s at the local county-owned park, Hancock County Fair or a destination trip to the Decorah area to trout fish, life is good when they gather around the campfire and soak in nature’s serenity.

“When my wife and I were first married, we would join her parents on camping trips in our small pop-up camper,” explains Brent Renner, a soybean and corn farmer from Klemme. “Over the years we have upgraded as our family has grown, and today we have a bunk camper that can fit our three teenagers.”

A favorite weekend destination for the family is Eldred Sherwood Park near Goodell. The county park has camping, shelters and the 21-acre, man-made Indian Lake for swimming and fishing.

“It’s a beautiful park. Our family enjoys it so much that my oldest son Caleb chose to host is high school graduation party there,” Brent shares.

Unfortunately, in recent years the lake’s water quality has slipped. Silting, nutrient loads and invasive plant species have made it difficult to enjoy swimming or boating in the lake.

Local conservation groups, the agriculture community, landowners and concerned citizens have come together to form a watershed group focused on reversing the lake’s water quality trend. While Brent doesn’t farm in the watershed that feeds into Indian Lake, he participates in the group as a local liaison for the Hancock County Farm Bureau.

“I love the lake, and I love farming, so I want to be a part of the solution,” Brent says. “It is important to make sure we’re not pointing fingers, but instead, acknowledging the issue and developing a plan for improving.”

The watershed group meets at least once a year to identify problem spots, connect resources, apply for funding and set goals. Throughout the year, conservationists with the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) monitor and test the lake’s nutrient levels, which helps establish benchmarks for water quality improvements. 

“We’ve made a tremendous amount of progress reducing the daily load of phosphorous that enters the lake,” says Brent, who also serves as a director for ISA. “Improving water quality takes time, which can be frustrating. But what we start now will be worth it in the future.”  

In this specific watershed and in fields across the state, farmers are incorporating a variety of conservation practices that can help improve soil quality. Improved soil quality can help limit nutrient runoff and erosion, in turn improving water quality.

Brent Renner farms soybeans and corn near Klemme. He and his family enjoy camping and soaking in the great outdoors. Photo credit: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association

Brent uses strip-till practices across his corn and soybean acres. This means that instead of disturbing or turning over all the soil before planting, he only tills a small strip where the seed is planted. This leaves most of the residue from last year’s crop in the field, which helps hold soil and nutrients in place.

He also uses buffer strips along waterways. Buffer strips are planted with permanent vegetation, like grasses, that will slow water runoff, trap sediment and nutrients. They also provide habitat for wildlife or pollinators.

“The other day I saw a baby fawn while I was working in a field,” Brent says. “I cherish those experiences. It’s what makes working in the great outdoors special.”

Brent continues to experiment with adding cover crops to his acres. He says it’s not always easy or cost effective to incorporate different conservation practices, but he believes in continually improving.

“Every day we strive to do better. Our family believes in doing all we can to leave the environment better for the next generation,” he says.