Sustainability Practices Prove Their Worth

Aug 10, 2017

By Jessica Wharton • From Summer 2017 American Soybean Magazine

Dave Walton, a grower from Wilton, Iowa, uses social media to give the world a glimpse of sustainable farming practices on his operation. Photo courtesy of Dave Walton

For a few minutes on Monday afternoons, you can be transported to Walton Farms in Wilton, Iowa—if you’re friends with Dave Walton on Facebook.

His Monday afternoon ride-along videos have rapidly gained popularity as he shows city dwellers a typical day on the farm—from planting and harvesting, to caring for ewes and other livestock and most importantly, how sustainability fits into every moving part.

“Sustainability means something different for everyone,” Walton said. “But the way we define it on our farm, is farming to leave the land better than we found it for future generations.”

Walton Farms has been operating on and around the same land in Iowa since 1835, spanning multiple generations and many different farming practices.

“We understand that the past generations did the best they could to take care of the land, and as we move forward we want to take that same mindset, utilize new information and implement updated ways of farming to be the best stewards of the land as possible for generations to come,” Walton said.

To update these practices and find success, Walton said it’s crucial to make sure all farm partners are on board and understand sustainability goals—from seed suppliers to hired hands.

When Walton Farms acquired new land 20 miles away from their other farming areas, implementing new sustainability practices seemed a natural fit. With all farm partners on board, Walton said once they got started, they never looked back— leading them to be 85-90 percent no-till today.

In addition to no-till farming, Walton Farms has converted highly erodible acres into hay production acres and utilizes its livestock operation to graze cover crops in the fall and spring, extending the grazing period by two full months.

While implementing new sustainability practices can be challenging, Walton said the outcomes and benefits have proven worthwhile.

Soybeans grow through the corn residue in a no-till field on Walton Farms in Wilton, Iowa. Photo courtesy of Dave Walton

“Not only has implementing sustainable practices led to lowering our cost of production, but it has also shown a huge benefit to our soil structure and soil health,” he said.

The lower cost of production is in part due to more effective use of fertilizer that is in turn maximizing yields, and with higher water filtration rates, Walton said it’s easy to spot his fields after a rainstorm, as there is significantly less standing water.

Seeing the benefits on his farm, Walton has taken to social media to encourage other farmers to experiment with sustainable farming practices, in addition to educating the non-farming public.

In the land of hashtags, Walton said he likes to utilize non-agriculture related tags to increase his viewer base and reach people who might otherwise not know what happens on a farm.

“About 99 percent of feedback is positive [on social media] and most non-farmers learn something new and come away with what I hope is a more positive impression of agriculture,” he said.

With more than a thousand Twitter followers and Monday Ride-Along videos nearing 400 views each, Walton is sharing the message of farming for the future far and wide.