Joel and Linda Zwiefel are well-known in Northwest Iowa for their farming innovations. Located in rural Fenton, Palo Alto County, they strip-tilled continuous corn for over 10 years. They have seen increased yields, better water infiltration and reduced soil erosion with strip-till. Recently Joel switched to vertical tillage to coordinate with his planter. Joel says that the "vertical tillage tool works 1-1/2 inches maximum into soil depth to prepare for planting."
“As I traveled around the state, I would come across people who are strip-tilling and it seemed to be a system that works,” said Joel. “Strip-till improves the organic matter and helps absorb more water. With a heavy rain, the more we can keep attached to roots, the less standing water we see.”
The Zwiefels have been farming for 35 years. They began implementing conservation practices to reduce the amount of chemicals used on their farm after their daughter was diagnosed with lymphoma. One cause of this disease is exposure to chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides or other solvents.
They farm approximately 850 acres, renting all but 170 acres. The couple notes that they have a great relationship with their landlords. They have discussed with them about topsoil loss and no-till and have convinced them that this is the right thing to do.
Building a Culture of Conservation
“Residue management improves the organic matter and helps absorb more water. With a heavy rain, the more we can keep attached to roots the less standing water we see.”
The couple believes that networking to get the conservation message out works. Having events such as field days and meetings introduces innovative thinking. “We need to talk to other producers who are successful. They can show us how it worked for them,” said Joel.
“I think conservation farming can work for anyone,” stated Joel. “But you have to stick with it beyond one year. The longer we do it the better we get at it. We keep testing and experimenting. That’s what makes farming fun. How can we not feel responsible for what happens on our land?”
The Zwiefels hosted an ILF field day on their farm that focused on corn-on-corn strip-till and no-till in 2007.