Dennis & Lori Heemstra — Primghar, O'Brien County

When it comes to keeping the land and climate healthy, Dennis Heemstra doesn’t believe they do anything more than other farmers. Yet, he and his wife Lori are continually looking for ways to minimize their environmental impact.

“God gave us just this earth to live on,” he says, “and we want to leave it better than where we started.”

The Heemstras own a 3,300-head wean-to-finish site where they grow pigs for Smithfield Foods. They also farm about 700 acres of corn and soybeans.

Caring for their land is a top priority. They work with an agronomist to implement various practices, including reduced tillage to limit soil disturbance. Grass waterways control gully erosion, and, along with buffer strips, attract wildlife and protect water quality by trapping sediment and nutrients in runoff.

Throughout the growing season, Dennis does tissue testing on his corn and soybeans, to check whether they have sufficient nutrients. This past year he experimented with a root enhancer, and has switched up manure pit additives to deliver higher yield potential when the manure is injected into soil as fertilizer. Dennis takes soil samples every four years on 2.5-acre grids.

Surrounding their hog barns is a tree buffer that’s three layers deep. The windbreak filters odor and provides a refuge for pheasants, deer, and other animals. Inside the buildings, they are transitioning to energy-saving LED lighting.

The last two years Dennis has requested a Checkoff-funded Pork Cares Farm Impact Report, a sustainability analysis that helps measure and document continuous improvement efforts. The report credits the Heemstras with keeping nearly 132 tons of soil from being lost to erosion—the equivalent of eight dump trucks.

This isn’t the first time the Iowa Pork Producers Association has honored the Heemstras. The couple were named Master Pork Producers for 2014.

When the Heemstras aren’t tending to the farm, they are active with the O’Brien County Pork Producers; Iowa Farm Bureau; various boards; and Christ Community Church in Primghar. Dennis is involved with the O’Brien County Farm Bureau and is the Center Township clerk. Lori is a substitute schoolteacher, a former 4-H leader for O’Brien County, and the Bill Riley Talent Search coordinator for the O’Brien County Fair.

They have three grown children, Nathan, Jenna, and Jillian.