Starting Out Right – The Tjelmelands of Story County

05-16-2019 in Article

Lucas and Krista Tjelmeland are exactly the kind of young farmers Iowa, and agriculture, needs and wants to attract.

At age 28, Lucas is the fifth generation of Tjelmelands to farm in Story County.

The tradition comes with a strong background in livestock and land stewardship practices. Like many of today’s young producers, farming is all Lucas ever really wanted to do.

And, like many of today’s young producers, he realizes a diversified crop and livestock operation is the way to accomplish his dreams.

He grew up with hogs. His dad spent 34 years in the farrow-to-finish business. Lucas bought his first cattle at age 15. By age 21, he wanted to build his own hog barn. “Through the generations, we’ve always had livestock on the farm,” says Tjelmeland. “It’s hard to farm without it. You can’t make it on just crops.” Tjelmeland row crops with his parents, raising corn, soybeans and hay, as well as hogs and cattle.

Tjelmeland knew that he needed to further diversify into livestock production to grow the family farm, but wanted assistance in doing it right and understanding the environmental rules that would apply to his farm.  Those reasons prompted him to call the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers when he was finally ready to construct a 4,000 head hog confinement unit in 2014.

“It was my banker’s suggestion,” he says, “and the best decision I made. I didn’t fully realize how much of our land was in a flood plain, or what an impact waterways, creeks and boundary ways have, until I made the manure management plan for the Master Matrix. And I certainly needed help navigating the public relations.”

CSIF Senior Field Coordinator Kent Mowrer met with Tjelmeland, looking over the land and planning tactics. Together they selected a site on his home place, and discussed how to approach neighbors with the news.

“That was the biggest, most helpful thing he could have done,” says Tjelmeland, “helping me to know what to say and what not to say. He was a wonderful sounding board.”

Communication would be key to Tjelmeland’s success. He was in for a fight. His farm sits 10 minutes from Ames and nearly as close to Nevada in the midst of heavily populated Story County in the central region of the state. His project, a 100×300 square feet building designed for raising hogs on contract for Illinois pork producer The Maschhoffs, was the first new construction to pass the Master Matrix in Story County.

“We informed the County Supervisors of our plans before my application was submitted and they started receiving calls from the opposition. They greatly appreciated that,” says Tjelmeland.

Mowrer not only helped navigate the formal communication channels, he guided Tjelmeland through communicating with and educating his neighbors. Like many new livestock projects in today’s landscape, it was met with mixed results.

“I’ve always been around here. I was raised here. And I was the kid who stayed around, watched their houses when they were out of town, and helped on their farms,” says Tjelmeland. “That helped rally some support.”

With CSIF’s backing, he took the message through the maze of public meetings, hearing neighbors’ concerns, calmly responding with solid information.

“CSIF has the support of a lot of people,” says Tjelmeland. “They bring a lot of credibility to the table.”

CSIF encouraged Tjelmeland to apply the personal touch where he could. He invited anyone that was game to come look over the site and hear the details of the plan.

Once the hog barn was up, the effort continued with an open house and private tours. “I’ve had neighbors apologize to me for opposing the project,” says Tjelmeland. “They say they are happier than they thought they would be. A lot of them are surprised by the science, the day in and day out thought that goes into farming and raising livestock.”

Tjelmeland follows the CSIF lead and does things right. He uses buffer strips and waterways and other conservation methods on his land.

Utilizing the latest science for soil and manure nutrient testing, he applies the livestock manure to owned and rented cropland, making full use of the cost-reducing by-product resource and increasing his sustainability.

He used the CSIF Green Farmstead Partner Program to plant a 168-pine tree buffer around his hog barn. “CSIF and the program landscapers helped us select the best trees for our soil and map out the best location for planting,” says Tjelmeland.

“This could have been such a negative story,” says CSIF Executive Director Brian Waddingham. “Livestock production can be a hard sell in areas like Story County. The reality is construction and day-to-day operation of a hog barn like the Tjelmeland’s creates 12 jobs and can have a $2 million economic impact to the area in the first year alone. Iowa livestock farmers are community-minded, add greatly to the local and state economy, take great pride in their work and are committed to the wellbeing of their animals and the environment.”

Lucas and Krista Tjelmeland are proof of that, and proof the CSIF approach works.

“We have a lifetime of farming ahead of us and we hope to continue to grow with livestock,” says Tjelmeland. “I’m thankful we have CSIF to help.”

The Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers was created by farmers to help farmers raise livestock successfully and responsibly. It’s a partnership involving the Iowa Beef Industry Council, Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Poultry Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Turkey Federation and Midwest Dairy Association. The non-profit, non-partisan organization aids farmers at no cost. CSIF does not lobby or develop policy. Farm families wanting a helping hand can contact the coalition at 800.932.2436.

(By Terri Queck-Matzie for CSIF. Queck-Matzie is a freelance writer from Greenfield).

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