Greene County Family Wins October Good Farm Neighbor Award

10-11-2005 in Good Farm Neighbor

It says a lot about a family when more than 100 of their rural friends and neighbors take valuable time away from harvest, with storm clouds brewing to the west, to help them celebrate an award.

But that’s exactly what happened for Mike and Kathy Bravard, hog producers who live northeast of Jefferson in Greene County, and who were chosen as the October Good Farm Neighbor Award winners.

“There are a lot of good farmers in Greene County and when I look around at the things people are doing to farm correctly, Mike always comes to mind,” said neighbor and award nominator David Ausberger, who farms just east of the Bravards. “Mike has a good manure management plan, he’s participating in some on-farm research to reduce nitrogen rates, and he’s very involved in the community and his kids’ activities. He really fits the award criteria.”

The Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award is a partnership between the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Iowa Ag Radio Network. The award recognizes livestock farmers who exhibit the qualities of a good neighbor, and who care for their livestock and show concern for the environment. The award is sponsored by the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF) and West-Central Cooperative.

The Bravards have lived in the Jefferson area all of their lives. Mike grew up in the farmhouse where he and Kathy are now raising their four children – Lucas, 11, Abby, 10, Ben, 6, and Elizabeth, 4. Kathy was a “city girl” who married Mike and moved to the farm in 1991.

Mike raises pigs from wean to finish. Pigs arrive at his farm when they’re about 12 pounds. Mike feeds all of them in an early wean barn, a practice known as double stocking, and then moves half the animals to another building once they reach 40 to 50 pounds. The animals are then fed and cared for until they reach market size.

“I used to farrow-to-finish on my own,” Mike said. “But that’s a lot of work. I had no time with my family. So in 1999, I went with Land O’Lakes and now Maschoff’s. It’s given me more time for my children’s activities and I don’t have to worry about marketing pigs on my own. It’s worked out really well for us.”

Mike hires several part-time workers, including a local FFA student, to assist with the livestock and row crops. He farms about 2,800 acres of corn and soybeans. He uses a local company to haul manure from his buildings and inject it into his fields. In the past, he’s used the manure on fields where no commercial fertilizer is needed. This year he plans to spread the nutrient-rich manure around to other fields and add commercial fertilizer where it’s needed.

Mike was one of the first Greene County farmers to participate in the Iowa Soybean Association’s On-Farm Network research trials. Through the program, Mike compares different nitrogen rates on his fields to determine whether he could apply less nitrogen and still maintain high yields.

The first year Mike participated in strip trial research where he applied his current rate of nitrogen to one strip of land and then applied 50 pounds less nitrogen to the next strip. The goal was to determine whether that extra 50 pounds of nitrogen paid for itself through higher yields.

“We’re finding out that we can get by with less nitrogen and still maintain our yields,” he said. “That’s especially good to know at a time like this when fertilizer costs are increasing.”

Many farmers in Mike’s area, which is in the West Buttrick Creek Watershed, have joined the research program so they can reduce the amount of nitrogen applied to their fields. West Buttrick Creek feeds into the Raccoon River, which is one of the main water supplies for the city of Des Moines. Mike said farmers want to be proactive in keeping Iowa’s drinking water safe and healthy, and when they participate in the On-Farm Network program they can show the public that’s what they’re doing.

“Mike is a soil commissioner. We work closely with soil commissioners all over the state and they play a big role in conservation,” said Iowa Agriculture Secretary Patty Judge. “Mike is also taking part in the Iowa Soybean Association’s field trials. The things they’re doing on this farm will result in cleaner water all over the state.”

Conservation plays an important role in Mike’s farm decisions. He has constructed many waterways, terraces and filter strips and was able to sign up for Tier 1 funding in the Conservation Security Program (CSP) last year.

“CSP is a good program, although it can be confusing at times. We came in at Tier 1 and considered that a good foot in the door,” he said. “We just try to do a little something every year, whether it’s to add another waterway or filter strip.”

Mike stressed that his conservation efforts could not have been completed were it not for the help of his family members and landlords, all of whom have been financially supportive of his practices.

“I tell my landlords all the time that tenants are a lot easier to come by than good landlords,” he said. “Without them, we wouldn’t be in business anymore.”

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