The Iowa Cattlemen’s Association has named AJ and Kellie Blair, Dayton, as winners of the 2016 Iowa Environmental Stewardship Award Program (ESAP). The Blairs show a dedication to the environment on their modern, diversified livestock farm, and have added cattle to the farm because of the conservation benefits they have to offer.
AJ and Kellie are now the 4th generation on the Blair family farm and their children, Wyatt and Charlotte, are the fifth. In 2010, they brought cattle back to the farm with a 400 head monoslope finishing barn and in 2014, they began building a herd of SimAngus cows, as well.
The Blairs have a holistic, systems approach to reaching their goals, building on improvements until the entire process makes sense from a farm management, environmental and financial standpoint. “It’s a long-term process. Every year we do a little more. It’s hard to know what components are helping with the year to year variables we face, but we try to make changes that will be a benefit in the long-run,” explains Kellie.
Every aspect of the Blair farm works in more than one way to improve the farm, grow more food more efficiently, and help maintain profitability even in tough times. For example, cover crops are used on the farm for soil health, water quality, and grazing cattle. The monoslope barn provides another income stream, utilizes corn and soybean residue as bedding, and provides natural fertilizer for the fields. The corn crop is used for earlage, and “wet” corn and ethanol co-products are part of the feed rations.
Often times, it seems as though increased sustainability can decrease profitability. But the system the Blairs have worked out is intended to increase both factors. As AJ explains, “Production agriculture is a business. You have to make enough money to farm again next year. The hard truth is that farmers don’t care about soil health or water quality if they can’t afford to farm again the next season. So true sustainability means that you are making a profit. We do a lot of enterprise budgeting and in that process you find yourself questioning why you are creating each expense and whether it’s really necessary. And for us, conservation sits right on the table with the numbers.”
The Environmental Stewardship Awards Program is supported by the Iowa Cattlemen’s Foundation, National Cattlemen’s Foundation, Dow AgroSciences, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.