Jacob Bolson visits with Kathleen Hunt during a Southfo

Jacob Bolson visits with Kathleen Hunt during a Southfork Watershed Alliance field day held on Hunt's farm to celebrate the first two bioreactors to be installed in Hardin County. Bolson is Hunt's tenant and together they have a conservation-minded focus when caring for the land. (Photo: Kriss Nelson/Iowa Soybean Association).

Caring for the land through conservation

June 30, 2022 | Kriss Nelson

To celebrate the installation of the first two bioreactors in Hardin County, the Southfork Watershed Alliance hosted a field day recently at the farm owned by Kathleen Hunt of Washington.

“I see what Hunt is doing is part of the county; she is a part of the people working to enhance the water quality in the Southfork watershed,” says Jo Baumann, Southfork Watershed Alliance board member. “It means one more landowner adding to the group of the people in the county that are using practices like these to promote water quality.” 

As the fifth-generation of her family to own the land and the third-generation woman landowner, Hunt says she is doing what she can to help protect her ancestral farm.

“There’s an emotional attachment of our ancestors,” she says. “It is sacred to have this land, and it’s a special piece of land with Beaver Creek running through it.”

After her mother's passing and the farm's ownership transition started, Hunt looked for a new tenant that would align with her ideals. Ideals based on conservation.

Through the Practical Farmers of Iowa’s Find a Farmer land-matching tool, Hunt was connected to ISA member Jacob Bolson.

“I am very blessed. I feel fortunate to have connected with Jacob,” says Hunt.

Conserving and preserving

Both Hunt and Bolson feel implementing in-field and edge-of-field conservation practices on Hunt’s farm is essential.

“To me, it’s always been more about preserving the environment, so I try to do as many sustainable practices as possible,” says Hunt. “I feel like it is vital. It’s an emergency. We have to take care of the earth.”

Bolson says he shares Hunt’s care and concern.

“Conservation and caring for the land is critical to me,” says Bolson. “We are essentially focusing on water quality and how we can make marginal improvements every year. We impact the environment. Agriculture is in the spotlight from the consumer and the consumer wants a great focus on water quality.”

In addition to two bioreactors, other edge-of-field practices include two established wetland areas and CRP acres. Bolson also utilizes cover crops, no-tills soybean acres, and will implement strip-tillage in 2023 for corn. He is also using variable rate application technology to continue to expand waterways to help filter any runoff we get.

“We are on a journey every year on what we can do to improve how we care for the land,” he says. “Whether it is bringing in cover crops or alternative tillage styles. I will also start bringing manure as a nutrient source next year.”

Hunt has hired Peoples Company farm manager Mollie Aronowitz to assist her and Bolson with overseeing her farm as an absentee landowner. Aronowitz has assisted in finding funding for some of the conservation practices implemented on her land. She says she appreciates the landowner/tenant relationship between Hunt and Bolson.

“What’s so fun about this farm is the ripple effect of the collaboration that has come together,” says Aronowitz. “Because Kathleen and Jacob have such a good relationship, they are so transparent. They lay it out and have open, thoughtful conversations. They are aligned with their goals; they want what is best for her farm.”

“I view myself as the caretaker of her farm,” says Bolson. “Not just the tenant. It’s more than just acres to farm.”

The field day not only showcased the new bioreactors, but it was a chance to promote multi-practices, including strip-till, no-till, cover crops, edge-of-field practices and more.

The first two bioreactors in Hardin County were partly funded by a grant presented to the Southfork Watershed Alliance through the Iowa Water Quality Initiative. The grant will be funding additional bioreactors and saturated buffers in Hardin County in the near future.