Matt and Melissa Ditch know that an environmentally friendly system isn’t always the easiest or cheapest route. But if it’s the right thing to do, they work hard to make it happen.

The couple are part of CP3 Farms LLC with Matt’s parents, Ken and Becky. The three-generation, diversified livestock and grain farm includes a 4,160-head wean-to-finish facility, as well as a 15-head cow-calf operation, 200 acres of corn and 110 acres of soybeans.

Matt and Melissa Ditch received the Iowa Environmental Steward Award during Iowa Pork Congress on Jan. 22, 2020. From left are Jason Ross of Iowa State University’s Iowa Pork Industry Center; Matt and Melissa Ditch; and the 2020 Iowa Pork Producers Association President Mike Paustian.

In 1996, the hog operation transitioned from a farrow-to-finish facility to a 300-head nursery and a 300-head outdoor finishing facility. In 2014, a new barn was built with The Maschhoffs to expand the original site. They now finish about 8,300 pigs per year, with Matt overseeing the day-to-day operations. He’s also a dealer for Beck’s Hybrids seed company, headquartered in Atlanta, Ind.

Matt studied finance in college and graduated with “zero interest in farming.” He and Melissa moved to Dallas for his job with Cedar Rapids-based Rockwell Collins, now Collins Aerospace. But that meant he wasn’t around to jump into the combine or tractor after work to help his dad. “You miss one fall, and all of a sudden it was like, ‘We need to get back to Iowa,’” Matt recalled.

He just had to convince Melissa, a Mason City native who did not grow up on a farm. And she’s so thankful he did. For two years before farming full time, Matt was the assistant vice president and branch manager of Keystone Savings Bank in Center Point. Today, they live just a few hundred feet from their pigs on what’s considered the home farm, an acreage purchased by Matt’s grandparents in the 1950s.

The Ditches don’t make rash decisions. Matt spends countless hours researching ways to improve their environmental footprint, attending educational sessions, talking to people, and figuring out how to accomplish what they want—whether it’s securing funding or seeking partnership opportunities.

When it comes to their evolving manure management, Matt and Melissa have been especially sensitive to neighbors’ concerns expressed during a lengthy building permit process. Matt has his own tank to apply manure to fields, so he controls where it goes, when and how it’s applied, and how much is applied. He skips around based on weather, wind direction and ground temperature. In fall 2018, Matt began taking a strip-till approach to put nutrients directly into the root zone. His Vertical Till Injector toolbar gets the manure deep below the surface with minimal disturbance to topsoil and stubble.

A system developed by Juergens Produce and Feed in Carroll helps eliminate odors inside the barn.

To help eliminate odors coming from inside the barn, they have installed a system developed by Juergens Produce and Feed in Carroll. Spray nozzles mounted around the ceiling periodically deliver a mist of water-soluble solution, designed to neutralize ammonia and knock down dust particles. The second part is a manual application system to treat the manure below the slats. Capsules help convert nitrogen from the ammonia form to the ammonium form. This keeps the gas from escaping and means more nutrient-rich fertilizer for crops.

“I am just amazed that Matt can go do chores and come back, and I can barely tell he was down there,” Melissa said. “Most days, I can’t even tell the hogs are there.” Pork producers who have installed the system have reported improved pig growth rates, a drop in pig mortality rates, improved feed efficiency and improved air quality for employees. The Ditches have also planted a vegetative buffer of hybrid willows and evergreens outside the building to capture odors.

In addition, wet-dry feeders reduce water waste, which leads to a more concentrated manure value and an increase in the number of acres that can be covered per gallon.

The Ditches utilize no-till practices on all acres, along with grassed waterways. Starting in 2017, Matt took an extra step by planting cover crops on 100 acres. Currently they use cereal rye, but with access to mixes and knowledge through

Matt began planting cover crops on 100 acres in 2017.

Beck’s, Matt is looking at varying the cover crop mixture to possibly include more red clover before corn, and a cereal rye and vetch combination before beans to help with compaction and no-till. Cereal rye has also been a grazing source for their cattle, which worked well amid last year’s dry summer causing a hay shortage.

In 2018, solar panels were installed at the facility. Matt has also converted his curtain barn to a solid-sided barn for heat/propane savings and reduced maintenance.

The community is important to the Ditch family. Matt has spent time in local classrooms discussing manure management, manure application, environmental concerns and the pork industry. He hosted a Facebook Live event with the Farm Bureau ag outreach program, and is participating as a host during the Linn County Farm Bureau conservation field day. Melissa works at Collins Aerospace in Cedar Rapids.

The Ditches have three children: Alex (9), Victoria (7) and Joshua (6).