It's True Love

By Kriss Nelson, Iowa Soybean Association

"Why do farmers farm? Love. They must do it for love. They love to live where they work and to work where they live." - Wendell Berry

The definition of love is "an intense feeling of deep affection," and there is no more genuine love than farmers have for their land and animals.

Often, it's a love passed through many generations.

Pat Swanson and her husband Don, along with Don's brother Bill, are sixth-generation farmers near Ottumwa.

The love for the land began with the Swanson family moving to Wapello County in 1845. Don and Bill's grandfather started his conservation efforts by putting in contour terraces and erosion control structures in the 1930s.

The passion for conservation continued to the next generation when their father was one of the first to practice no-till in the early 1970s. These efforts have paved the way for the younger generations to continue the Swanson family's long tradition of farming.

"We have carried on with those early innovations - taking care of the land for the next generation," Pat Swanson says. "We are very committed to serving the land and making it better than we found it."

Swanson says they are working to instill those same values in the next generation.

"We want to bring land stewardship forward and teach our children, and now our grandchildren, the same love for the land, livestock and nature," she says.

Swanson also sees other farmers share this same love and dedication.

"Especially in southeast Iowa, our land is rolling. Our soils are different, and we have to pay a little more attention to conserving the soil and its health," she says. "In our part of the state, however, farmers are committed to the land and have been for generations."

A Long-Time Love Affair

Muscatine County-area farmer Dave Walton and his family raise cattle and sheep and grow corn and soybeans on their multi-generational farm that began in the 1830s.

Dave Walton standing in front of cattle

"I am the seventh generation of Walton farmers in Iowa," he says. "As a family, we have always felt a connection to the land and soil. We are farmers - always have been and hopefully always will be."

For the Walton family, the long-time love affair with farming has been made possible by each generation leaving it to the successive generation in better shape than when they farmed it.

"My dad tried to improve on what his dad did. I have spent my career trying to improve on what my dad and grandpa did, and now with my son coming in, that is starting to be instilled in him," Walton says. "It's his role now to look at what I've done and do it better."

Loving the land on the Walton family farm means conserving it, and in turn, it allows them to integrate livestock into their operation. Cattle can graze on areas of land that are less productive for corn and soybean production.

"On those less productive acres, we are raising hay instead of row crops. It's better for the landscape overall," says Walton.

The Waltons are also working to increase their cover crop acres, which improve soil health and serve as another feed source for their cattle.

"After the primary crop comes off, the cover crop emerges. We try to graze cattle there some in the fall and again in the spring," Walton says.

Like Swanson, Walton also sees his neighbors' devotion to their land and animals.

"In general, farmers are being more respectful of the land in ways previous generations may not have," he says. "This includes using no-till on the erosion-prone ground. That has been a big change in this area over the last 15 to 20 years."

No-till means crops are grown with minimal disturbance from tilling to the fields and the organisms within the soil. This builds healthier soils by keeping vital nutrients in place and reducing money spent on fuel and labor.

A Give and Take Relationship

Lynn and Dan Bolin own and operate New Day Dairy, a 120 dairy cow farm near Clarksville with a specialty niche where people can come and stay on their farm.

Lynn and Dan Bolin standing in front of dairy cows
"People get to experience firsthand, up, close and personal what it's like to live and operate a dairy farm," says Lynn Bolin.

Inviting people to "sleep with the cows" on the Bolin Century Farm allows the Bolin's to showcase their love for their animals and land. At this one-of-a-kind bed and breakfast experience, guests stay in a loft above the barn, with large windows providing a 24/7 view of the cows on the family's working dairy farm.

"Farmers have a special relationship with the land and their livestock," she says. "They care for their animals and the land, putting forth enormous effort, love and hard work."

At the same time, Bolin believes both the animals and the land give back to farmers.

"I think it is a true relationship farmers have with the land and livestock," she says. "It's mutually giving and taking from one another."

Dave Walton standing in winter, holding a baby goat

Dedication and Care

In addition to caring for their land, farmers go above and beyond when caring for their livestock.

"The frigid temperatures are a good reminder that we are always out there taking care of animals. It doesn't matter what the weather is; we are constantly making sure they are comfortable and healthy," Bolin says. "I don't think you can be in farming without loving what you do. You have to have a passion."

"It doesn't matter if we have a blizzard; we still have cows and other livestock that expect us to take care of them," Walton says. "You feel this responsibility probably more so than your safety at times. Their care is in our hands and livestock farmers take this responsibility to heart."

For Bolin, gratification comes with the devotion they give to their animals.

"There is a satisfaction in caring for the animals; they not only provide for us but also thousands of other people," she adds.