When he was 10 years old, Seth Watkins nursed a chilled calf back to health, an event that sparked his interest in farming and ultimately led him to his career today. Seth is a fourth generation steward of his family farm in Clarinda, Iowa. In 1994, he took over the family’s heritage farm, which was founded in 1846. The influence of his grandmother and 4-H founder, Jessie Field Shambaugh, also played a key role in his decision to farm.
Seth has a cow-calf enterprise of 600 and grows hay and corn for feed. He demonstrates agricultural land conservation for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification and allows outfitting. Seth does a large variety of conservation practices, most of which were implemented after 1998. These practices include: rotational grazing, restricted wildlife areas, riparian buffers, ponds, shallow water habitats, integrated pest management, prescribed burning, windbreak restoration, no-till, cover crops, tile, terrace, inter-seeded legumes, prairie restoration/CRP, late season calving, and row crops integrated with prairie strips. Seth’s prairie strips are in the beginning stages, but will become a standard native grass seeding, with technical assistance from the NRCS and ISU.
Until 1998, Seth’s operation consisted of maximizing production to increase profit. “I was getting by, but I felt my cows were a revenue source for the industry and not my family. I had the profound revelation that cows are supposed to eat grass and calves are supposed to drink milk, and the best way to do this was to change my focus from the balance sheet to making sure I had happy cows,” he explains.
Seth is involved with the Iowa Cattleman’s Association, Team Beef (Beef Council Running Team), and the Clarinda School Board. He and his wife, Christy, a consultant for Green Hills, have two children: Spencer, 11, and Tatum, 8.
Building a Culture of Conservation
Seth conserves fossil fuel, protects the land, and works with nature to improve ecology; a trio of practices that contribute to the success of his farm. “Stewardship is what life’s all about,” he says.
For more information about row crops integrated with prairie strips, visit the STRIPs at Neal Smith website.
These photos are from the STRIPs project at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, but Seth's will look just as nice in a couple years, after the prairie strips are completely established.