It may sound odd, but manure played a big role in keeping Todd and Mary Kay Wegener on the farm they bought near Fenton in 1997.
They struggled with crop yields early on and took jobs off their farm to make the cash flow they needed. That’s a tall order for farmers who had their own livestock to take care of, too. The couple worked for other farmers loading pigs and power-washing barns; then Todd discovered that hauling manure was a business he could combine with farming to make everything work.
“We went for it,” Todd said. That’s the attitude they took to starting their farm operation, to adding a manure hauling business, to implementing soil and water conservation measures, and to being active members of their community. And their ‘go for it’ attitude is what earned them recognition as the 2021 Environmental Steward Award winners from the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA). They received their award at the 2022 Iowa Pork Congress held the last week of January in Des Moines.
The manure from their wean-to-finish pigs (and cow-calf herd) is used on their crop acres. When the manure hauling business started, Todd said he knew roughly how many feet he should drive to empty the tank. But he became a quick adopter of technology.
The manure-hauling enterprise of their farm business now uses special flow-controlling meters and auto-steer technology to eliminate overlapping the application of the natural fertilizer. They use soil sampling and more technology with GPS (global positioning systems) to fall-inject manure that precisely balances the nutrient needs of the crop with the nutrient analysis of the manure.
In their fields, the Wegeners rotate their crops and use minimum tillage. They established grass waterways throughout their farm to reduce soil erosion.
A tree-lined windbreak by their pig barns helps filter odor and provides energy savings needed to keep the barns at a comfortable temperature for the pigs. The windbreaks also provide year-round shelters for pheasants, as well as winter refuge for other wildlife.
Implementing these practices is both time-consuming and costs money. Todd looks at the extra work and cost this way: “It was just the right thing to do. I guess I never questioned it. I just knew it was right; not just for keeping our farming operation alive, but for everybody. Improved water quality is for everybody. We’re not just thinking of ourselves.”
“Pig farmers take environmental management and regulations designed to protect our natural resources very seriously,” said Ben Nuelle, the IPPA public policy director. Nuelle also works with the IPPA environmental committee, which selected the Wegeners as the 2021 Environmental Steward award winners. The Wegeners received a $2500 cash award; and Kellie Welter, an environmental resource specialist at Smithfield received $500 for nominating them.
Todd and Mary Kay Wegener have three adult children, and each of them has some role on the farm.
In the community, Todd volunteers for the Fenton EMS and Mary Kay volunteers at their church and at the local school, where she put her landscaping skills to use. In addition, both always work at the community’s Sweet Corn Days.