HULL—Daryl and Marla De Groot have been honored for being good stewards of the land they farm in Sioux County.

The couple, who own and operate Donjan Swiss Inc. about a mile northeast of Hull, received the 2018 Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award on Aug. 15 during the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines.

The honor recognizes the efforts of the state’s farmers as environmental leaders committed to healthy soils and improved water quality.

The De Groots received their award from Gov. Kim Reynolds and Iowa secretary of agriculture Mike Naig.

“I was really surprised,” said Daryl, 64. “We didn’t realize how big a deal it was. We weren’t sure if we were getting an award or not when we went there.”

“We’re very honored and humbled,” said the former Marla Mulder, who is 63 and grew up on a dairy farm west of Sioux Center.

They received similar recognition last year from the Orange City-based Sioux County Soil & Water Conservation District, which nominated the couple this year for the state award.

Donjan Swiss, which is made up of 445 acres, is home to many terraces. The farm also has many grassed waterways.

“The last couple years, we’ve been trying to put cereal rye down as a cover crop,” Daryl said, noting that cereal rye is planted during the fall. “Then the next spring, we actually try to harvest the rye and then no-till beans right into there.”

No-till farming basically refers to methods to raise cash crops — the De Groots grow alfalfa, corn and soybeans — annually so the soil is not bothered through plowing or tillage.

“We plant the cover crops for erosion — to save the land so it doesn’t erode,” Marla said. “We always do it in our bean ground and plant it in that.”

She mentioned a couple of other benefits of cover crops like cereal rye, which can be used as feed for dairy cows.

“It acts as a natural weed preventer so we don’t have to use so much herbicide,” Marla said. “We chop it for feed the next spring. Then we plant the beans. It’s a win-win. And it helps keep the water clean because it keeps it filtered.”

The De Groots have a lagoon that collects their cattle’s waste material and a settling basin for sand. Their cows use sand for bedding in their free stalls.

“The liquid manure part runs off into the lagoon,” Marla said. “Then we can take the skid loader in and pick up the sand and get it out so that it’s not in the lagoon and clogging everything up. Then we put all that manure back on the ground as fertilizer.”

Donjan Swiss’ moniker comes from combining the first names of Daryl’s parents, Donald and Janet De Groot, who raised purebred Brown Swiss dairy cattle.

The farm primarily has Holstein dairy cows, but Daryl and Marla’s roughly 250-head herd includes 40-50 bovines of the Brown Swiss breed.

Donjan Swiss sells its milk to Associated Milk Producers Inc. in Sanborn.

“We just do the milking and raise the heifers,” Daryl said. “We keep all the heifers and we sell the bull calves off at about 2 months or 3 months old probably. It takes a lot of feed; you get a lot of manure in return.”

Conservation is important to the De Groots, whose farm has been in their family since 1932.

“We want to pass it on to the next generation,” Marla said. “Being good stewards — most farmers do that. That’s where our livelihood comes from — the land.”

“I don’t think we’re doing anything so special,” Daryl said. “We’re just doing what most farmers do — just trying to do a good job.”


IOWA FARM ENVIRONMENTAL LEADER AWARD:

The Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award is a joint effort between Iowa’s governor and lieutenant governor, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources to recognize the efforts of the state’s farmers as environmental leaders committed to healthy soils and improved water quality.

This award recognizes the exemplary voluntary actions of farmers who improve or protect the environment and natural resources of the state. These influential environmental leaders also encourage other farmers to follow in their footsteps by showcasing the success that they have had.

The honor recognizes those who have taken steps in their farming operations to serve as local leaders in environmental stewardship on their farms, utilizing a variety of techniques and best management practices. As environmental leaders, these farmers have adopted best management practices and incorporated environmental stewardship throughout their farming operations.

As true stewards of the land, these honorees recognize that improved water quality and soil sustainability reap benefits that extend beyond their fields to reach the citizens of Iowa and beyond, and have made environmental stewardship a priority on their farms.

For more information on the award, visit www.iowaagriculture.gov/environmentalleader.