A Century Farm Looking to the Future

posted by Megan McDowell on Friday, June 4, 2021

Last month, farmer Lee Tesdell invited Iowa Environmental Council staff to his century farm near Huxley for a tour and discussion about land stewardship.

Bioreactor on Lee Tesdell's Century farmLee’s farm demonstrates the compounding benefits of the multiple conservation practices he has implemented over the years. He uses cover crops, a bioreactor, and a saturated buffer to protect Four Mile Creek. With partners, the practices are monitored to track water quality improvement. Lee emphasized the importance of his relationship with his tenant farmer in implementing cover crops. Lee and his lessee have a handshake agreement, but it is optimal for tenants and landowners have conservation practices built into the lease agreement. He worked with the farmer to develop an agreed-upon plan for the rotation, planting, and fertilizing that benefits the soil, maintains yield, and protects water quality. 

"Lee’s farm is a model for the sort of collaboration necessary to scale up conservation practices across the state. As a landowner, he’s working closely with his tenant farmers and coordinating projects with his neighbors,” said Dr. Brian Campbell, IEC’s Executive Director. “They are also working with the city of Des Moines to demonstrate how cities can improve water quality and manage storm water by investing in conservation upstream."

Creek on Lee Tesdell's Century FarmLee’s relationships with his neighbors are important. Although Lee won’t take credit, some of them seem to have been influenced at least in part by his stewardship example. In partnership with Polk County, several of Lee’s neighbors will install buffers on their properties in the coming year. Together, they have fostered a community of conservation farmers in the Four Mile Creek watershed.

Solar panel on Tesdell Century FarmAs Lee shared the importance of working with neighbors and the producers who farm his land, he also emphasized that conservation needs to be flexible and easy to implement for farmers and landowners. There are programs he has utilized, and he has ideas for how conservation programs could be cost shared. He also embraces the use of clean energy.

"It’s just as important to harvest the power of solar and wind as it is to harvest crops," Lee said while pointing out his solar panels on the farm.

Perhaps not surprising, Lee has expressed his stewardship by not only recognizing and using solar energy, but also focusing on the row crop practices that can improve water quality. Lee is a very active participant in striking a balance in the owner/tenant relationship recognizing the tenant needs to be profitable while the owner needs preserve the land for the future.

Lee’s farm is an excellent example for those looking for water quality and energy solutions. IEC will return to the farm on Friday, June 11, in partnership with the Mississippi River Legislative Caucus to bring local lawmakers on a tour of the property to learn more about Lee's actions during MRN’s River Days of Action.

  1. clean water
  2. healthy soil
  3. land stewardship
  4. nitrate pollution
  5. phosphorus pollution
  6. renewable energy
  7. sustainable agriculture
  8. water quality

About The Author

Megan joined IEC in April 2020 in a part-time communications support position, and is now a full-time Communications Coordinator with IEC. Megan is a Navy veteran who, thanks to the Veteran Readiness and Employment program, returned to college to pursue a career change in 2018. She is a Drak ... read more