Dean Sponheim of Nora Springs was presented the Iowa Soybean Association's (ISA) Environmental Leader Award, sponsored by Agri Drain. (Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)
2020 Environmental Leader Award
January 27, 2020 | Lauren Houska
Dean Sponheim of Nora Springs was presented the Iowa Soybean Association's (ISA) Environmental Leader Award, sponsored by Agri Drain. The award recognized the self-described “accidental conservationist” for his commitment to practicing and promoting agriculture management practices that improve the environment.
A fourth-generation farmer, Sponheim is turning over his soil on his Century Farm through the use of conservation practices instead of a plow.
“When I was growing up in the 1970s, we were moldboard plowing,” said Sponheim. “I’m not downgrading my ancestors by any means, it’s just what was done. Things have changed today.”
A long-time ISA member, Sponheim, his wife, Cindy, and son, Josh began strip tilling in 1999. In 2004, they started a custom strip till business and began strip cropping in 2011.
“I couldn’t believe the difference. We didn’t turn back,” Sponheim said.
He acknowledges there are places in Iowa that aren’t conducive to no-till but encourages farmers to give it a try and evaluate the benefits.
Sponheim also started aerial applying cover crops in the fall of 2012 and in 2014 launched Sponheim Sales and Services, a cover crop seed business.
“Cover crops are beneficial because of what they do for our soil,” Sponheim says. “There is usually twice as much growth underground as we get above-ground with rye. That’s why it’s good for soil biology and sequestering nitrogen.”
Sponheim is a member of the Rock Creek Watershed Advisory Board. In 2014 it began working with ISA to develop the first watershed project plan in Iowa linked to goals outlined in the state’s nutrient reduction plan.
Since 2014, Sponheim has shared his story to many groups. He has spoken at ISA’s annual Research Conference, National Strip Till Conference, the annual meetings of the Iowa Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioners, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and Iowa Corn Growers Association. He’s also hosted or presented at many field days across Iowa and Minnesota.
“I enjoy helping producers work through the physiological challenges when implementing changes on their operations,” Sponheim says.
ISA's 2020 Leadership Awards were given in seven categories on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, during ISA’s Annual Awards Banquet, sponsored by West Bank.