Linn County hog farmers selected for national environmental award

Linn County hog farmers selected for national environmental award

Posted Sept. 19, 2013

When it comes to protecting natural resources while minimizing the environmental footprint, few hog farmers do it better than a farm family from Monticello in Linn County.

Russell Brothers, LLC, has been named as one of the Pork Checkoff’s four recipients of the 2013 Pork Industry Environmental Steward Award. The Russell family joins the other award winners, as well as other pork operations across the country, in their commitment to protecting natural resources while minimizing the environmental footprint.

Jason and Sarah Russell are building on a family legacy that can be traced back to the Civil War when the Russell family established its roots in Linn County. With Jason’s brother, Eric, they raise pigs, corn, soybeans and hay on 390 owned acres and 160 custom-farmed acres. They market more than 14,000 hogs a year as part of The Maschhoff production network.

“We’re very excited [about receiving the award],” said Jason. “It’s good to be recognized for the hard work. We’ve been working to make this farm more sustainable for the public image and the [pork] industry for the last 10 years.”

The Pork Industry Environmental Steward Award, now in its 19th year, recognizes U.S. producers who demonstrate a firm commitment to safeguarding the environment and their local communities. The winners were chosen earlier this year based on their manure management systems, water and soil conservation practices, odor-control strategies, farm aesthetics, neighbor relations, wildlife habitat promotion and innovative ideas used to protect the environment. The judges represented pork producers and environmental organizations.

When it comes to their environmental stewardship efforts, Russell is most proud of their commitment to energy savings. A 50-kilowatt wind turbine helps the farm conserve electric energy by generating 60 to 80 percent of the farm’s needs, depending on the year. They are contemplating adding solar power to supplement the wind energy and allow the farm to become a total net exporter of energy.

The Russells do as much as possible to protect the environment in their farming business. They are taking a more precise approach to manure and pesticide application to prevent over-application.

“I’d like to get into strip-tilling manure to prevent the need to supplement with nitrogen in the spring and reduce compaction,” Jason said.

Highly erodible areas in fields are seeded to create extra-wide grass waterways and help stop soil erosion. Cover crops such as cereal rye and triticale have been planted in recent years and 400 acres of winter wheat will be planted this fall. Jason has four acres of riparian buffers to prevent sediment, nitrogen, phosphorus, pesticides and other pollutants from reaching nearby streams. They no-till soybeans and turn the end rows of fields too steep to be farmed into hay ground.

The Russell’s environmental philosophy is quite simple.

“My dad and grandfather taught me that you have to make [the farm] better each year or you won’t be farming eventually,” said Jason. “So, that’s what we do.”

To view a video featuring the Russell farm, click here.

The Pork Checkoff’s Environmental Stewards subcommittee also selected Bacon Hill Farm in Dodge, Neb.; Krikke Pork in Greenwich, Ohio; and Blue Mountain Farms in Milford, Utah, as award recipients.

“The forward-thinking 2013 Stewards focus on innovative solutions and ideas on their farms,” said Lynn Harrison, chair of the Environmental Stewards selection subcommittee and former president of the National Pork Board. “From turning manure into fuel to operate farm vehicles, to generating enough power to light up to 3,000 homes, the 2013 Stewards are putting their own stamp on raising high-quality pork for customers. And like other farms, they are doing it while adhering to the industry’s We CareSM ethical principles.”

The 2013 Environmental Stewards will be officially recognized at the 2014 National Pork Industry Forum next March in Kansas City, Mo.