This week, we had the opportunity to visit Loran Steinlage’s farm. Loran is a farmer in northeastern Iowa, and is a big name when it comes to regenerative practices. When asked how many generations his family has farmed, Loran says that his grandfather moved here from Germany and he still has relatives farming in Europe. Loran was born into generations of farmers, and he proudly carries on that tradition here in Iowa. We sat at a table with Loran for hours asking questions and hearing stories about his farm. We want to thank Loran for taking us into his home and sharing with us his experiences in his farming career. We gleaned a lot of information and could write pages of what we learned, but here are our three main takeaways from visiting Loran at his farm.
With farmers who are curious about starting regen ag, take advantage of cost share programs as much as possible.
We had the opportunity to speak with a couple of farmers in Loran’s area the morning that we met with him. These farmers were curious, but skeptical of implementing regenerative practices on their farms. Loran shared with us a key piece of advice that I think could help many farmers who are weary of the increased cost of adding cover crops; take advantage of as many cost share programs as possible. With government cost share, and now carbon market programs, farmers that have been conventionally farming can see the highest incentives. Pairing cost share programs with advice from a local farmer like Loran, or from us at Continuum Ag to implement these systems correctly, your farm doesn’t have to suffer a huge loss in profitability while implementing regenerative practices in year one. Sustained yield and improved soil health can all come at little to no increase in cost the first years of implementing this system, and as continual no-till and cover crop use are implemented on your farm, you’ll have better profitability and more resilient crops in the future.
Loran’s use of chemical and synthetic inputs have been reduced greatly because of his soil health focused farming.
When asking Loran when he started implementing his regenerative practices on the farm he simply replied, “I got no idea!”. His journey began to reduce his ever- increasing input costs and needed a viable solution. Therefore, he didn’t have a specific start date, rather a time where he identified that by implementing the soil health practices of regenerative farming, he would simply save money on inputs all while improving his soil health. Over time he has significantly reduced all chemical and synthetic inputs as nature is taking its cause and providing ecosystem services that reduce and replace the need for chemical inputs on his operation. A large goal of his is to use his farm as a “trial farm” for research and for educating people more and more about regenerative farming and drive a more sustainable future of farming.
Loran’s creeks and waterways on his farm are so clean that he’s seen wildlife thriving in them.
Generally, a creek running alongside fields is polluted in some way or another, but not the case if you address your runoff situation by improving infiltration. Regen practices such as diverse cover crops and constantly keeping a living root helps such a process. In fact, the creek running below one of Loran fields had stagnant water in the spring of last year. The water quality was so pristine that that specific pond held about 100 trout! That can’t happen with any runoff, that’s for sure.
In order to be successful in regenerative ag, you have to be comfortable being the odd one out.
Loran shared with us many stories about his journey in regen ag. “I’m on an island. In fact, I’m on Gilligan’s Island,” he told us. Being one of the few regenerative-minded farmers in his area, he doesn’t have much support from the community in his farming practices. Even though Loran has had amazing success in implementing regenerative practices and has spoken around the world about how to do it successfully, he’s still seen as an outsider to some in the community. If you’re involved in this soil health/regen ag world, I’m sure you can relate to this feeling. But, nevertheless, Loran persists. He does what he knows is right, and what he knows will benefit his farm. I think this is a lesson that all of us in the soil health world can heed. Sometimes it feels like we’re swimming upstream; like the rest of the ag world is against us. However, we’re gaining traction, and we’ve got a strong community of people who are dedicated to this endeavor. As more and more people like Loran stand up for what they know is right and what they know can help farmers, we will get to a place where regenerative farming is at the forefront of agriculture in the United States, and across the world.