Talking Turkeys and Trees: The Olthoffs

11-18-2013 in Green Farmstead Partner

There’s a proverb that says, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.” It’s a message that Bart and Katie Olthoff have taken to heart in a big way.

When the Olthoffs wanted to enhance their turkey farm south of Stanhope, they found an eco-friendly, practical solution through the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers’ (CSIF) Green Farmstead Partner program.

“Our barns are very visible along Highway 17 on the edge of Squaw Creek, and we wanted to add new trees to help the site blend in with the environment,” said Bart Olthoff, 31, a third-generation Iowa turkey producer. “That’s why we worked with CSIF’s Green Farmstead Partner program.” (Read more about the planning process.)

The Green Farmstead Partner program is an on-farm environmental initiative that promotes the planning and installation of tree plantings on Iowa’s livestock farms. It’s a collaborative effort involving CSIF, Trees Forever and the Iowa Nursery and Landscape Association (INLA).

There are many benefits associated with planting trees on livestock farms. “A properly designed tree planting can control snow, provide a windbreak, improve aesthetics, and enhance relationships with neighbors, all without having a negative impact on ventilation,” said CSIF Asst. Field Specialist Rita Cook. “The key is having the right plan in place from the start. And that is exactly what the Green Farmstead Partner program is here to help with.”

Since 2009, the Green Farmstead Partner program has helped farmers plant more than 43,000 trees for windbreaks on approximately 105 sites across Iowa. The Olthoffs planted 72 trees and shrubs in early July of 2013, including cedar, Norway spruce, white spruce, river birch, redosier dogwood, hawthorn, a variety of crabapple trees and more.

“Diversity is the key,” said Mark Pingenot, a field coordinator with Trees Forever. “This mix of evergreens, hardwood trees and shrubs will provide shade for temperature moderation, which can translate into lower energy costs. The trees and shrubs also offer year-round visual interest and will enhance the beauty of the natural area.”

The Olthoffs received cost-share funding through Trees Forever’s Working Watersheds: Buffers & Beyond™ to help offset the cost of the project. Working Watersheds helps improve water and soil quality by using trees, shrubs and prairie plantings near streams, wetlands and other environmentally sensitive areas.

Protecting Iowa’s natural resources

While the trees and shrubs will function as a windbreak on the west side of the building, the Olthoffs did not want to plant in rows. They opted to group the trees and shrubs in clusters to provide a more natural look and make it easier to fill in any gaps, if necessary.

Although the dry conditions of 2013 made it trickier to establish trees, the Olthoffs nurtured their young trees as carefully as they tend their turkeys. “At first we watered every day,” said Olthoff, who markets approximately 120,000 turkeys a year. “After that we watered about once a week to help the trees get off to a good start this first year.”

Growing for the future

The Olthoffs are glad they worked with CSIF’s Green Farmstead Partner program for technical assistance and cost-share programs for their new trees and shrubs.

“We value soil and water quality,” said Katie Olthoff, who is proud to raise the couple’s two young sons on the farm and shares the family’s stories through her blog, On the Banks of Squaw Creek. “We want to be responsible livestock producers and that means protecting the environment. The Green Farmstead Partner program is a unique resource with practical, commonsense solutions.  We’d recommend them to any livestock farmer interested in enhancing their farm.”

By: Darcy Maulsby, freelancer writer from Yetter

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