John and Jordan Schwarck's priorities are preserving the soil and protecting wildlife habitat.

The father and son farm south of Riceville along the Wapsipinicon River. During a recent Iowa Learning Farms/Practical Farmers of Iowa/Mitchell County Soil and Water Conservation District field day, John explained why they decided to plant cover crops and start strip-tilling this fall.

"We had a much needed 3-inch rain that soaked into the soil, but then a couple days later we had 1.5 inches of rain in 15 minutes and we had terrible soil erosion," John said. "We're looking at cover crops and strip-till to address erosion and to build up organic matter."

The Schwarcks are planting brassicas, a combination of rape seed and turnips, that will winterkill. They've been growing brassicas in wildlife food plots for 20 years.

Their plan is to follow the combine with a no-till drill to seed cover crops. The Schwarcks are the first farmers in Mitchell County to sign up for EQIP cost-share funds for cover crops, John said.

John and his wife, Janine, who is administrative assistant at the Mitchell County Farm Service Agency office, have operated a pheasant hunting lodge on their farm since 1986. For the first few years, the hunters stayed in the Schwarcks' home and Janine cooked them three meals a day.

"That just got to be too much so we built an actual lodge," John said. "Now we feed them breakfast, and they're on their own the rest of the day."

Because pheasant numbers are down, John will ease off for a couple of years to let bird numbers rebound.

They have quite a bit of CRP ground, and plant a variety of food plots for deer.

"There's been a lot of plows put to CRP on account of high land values and high grain prices," Jordan said. "We feel it's our responsibility as conservationists and outdoorsmen to look at the big picture for the next generation. If we want to have a place to enjoy the outdoors — whether it's hunting or fishing or any outdoor activity — it's our responsibility as farmers and stewards of the land."

The Schwarcks will create strips with a Krause Gladiator strip-till rig, which John hopes to use for custom jobs as well.

"We take advantage of all the modern technology from GPS guidance to variable rating," Jordan said.

They will split apply nitrogen by putting on 85 pounds of anhydrous with their strip-till rig in the fall and sidedressing the rest in the summer with a Hiniker cultivator.

"Our intent is to reduce our fertilizer usage by 30 percent," John said.

They use a Caterpillar Challenger track tractor. The single tracks eliminate the pinch-row effect. They will also implement controlled traffic patterns.

"By today's standards we're pretty small farmers," Jordan said. "We're both working day jobs, and we're always looking for ways to improve our farming operation and make it more profitable."