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Rather than sit and let the public take pot shots at the impact large pork production facilities may have on the environment, Iowa Select Farms, L.P., of Iowa Falls, Iowa, has involved the public in its environmental efforts.

Iowa Select Farms received the Environmental Stewardship Award sponsored by the National Pork Board and National Hog Farmer last year for exceptional commitment to the environment at its Arends Sow Farm in Hamilton County, Iowa. Iowa Select Farms' Kielsmeier Sow Farm in Hardin County received the honor in 1997.

"Our interest in [applying for] the award was twofold. We wanted to generate positive awareness to the consumer, and we wanted to educate pork producers about stewardship opportunities," says Deanna Roelfs, Iowa Select Farms director of communications. "The application is rigorous and time-consuming, but it is worth the commitment because of the positive impact the award has on public perception."


The 4,000-sow operation was chosen for the award in recognition of recent landscaping and the environmental research efforts that are tied to the landscape design.

"The design focuses on image and farm aesthetics. The trees and shrubs soften the impact of the farm from the neighbor, community and farm employee perspective, the mix of plant varieties provides colorful seasonal interest and grasses and flowers enhance the landscape," says Roelfs.

To get more mileage out of the landscape effort, Iowa Select Farms involved diverse groups in the project as cooperating research partners.

Since 1998, Trees Forever, Iowa State University's Department of Forestry, the Agroecology Issue Team of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and the National Soil Tilth Laboratory have been exploring potential benefits of improved landscape aesthetics, reduced energy costs, reduced odor and improved wildlife habitat at the farm. For example, a shelterbelt of trees was planted to help shield facilities from strong winter winds, which may result in energy savings and disperse odors.

"From the very beginning of our discussions with Trees Forever, it was obvious that even though our organizations are quite different, we share a mission dedicated to environmental stewardship," says Jeff Hansen, third-generation farmer and pork producer, and founder of Iowa Select Farms in 1992. Today, Iowa Select Farms is the state's largest pork producer, supporting nearly 900 families in 26 Iowa counties.


The project allowed other partnerships to cultivate within the community as well. The Northeast Hamilton High School FFA and the Blairsburg Lions Club helped Iowa Select in early 1999 to plant more than 1,000 trees and shrubs around the farm's perimeter. Most were planted in shelterbelts, although some were planted near buildings and around the lagoon to see how they might affect airflow, odor drift and air filtration.

In addition to research with the trees, Iowa Select Farms and Trees Forever developed a shallow-water wetland to enhance wildlife habitats near the operation. Roelfs says grasses and wildflowers were planted at the site to help provide food, water and cover for birds and wildlife.

Other environmental stewardship efforts are under way at the state-of-the-art, farrow-to-wean operation. A number of safety precautions have been built into the barns to minimize environmental risk, including an alarmed automatic flushing system, a backup lift station and an effluent application system with rain and odor safeguards.

"I believe Iowa Select Farms' efforts at the Arends Sow Farm are examples of how cooperative programs and employee involvement increase awareness of the importance of environmental stewardship and create long-term value for Iowa Select Farms and the environment," says Hansen. "We need to have a balance between people and pork production, and between pork production and our natural resources." AM

Barb Baylor Anderson is a free-lance writer from Edwardsville, Ill., who covers a wide variety of ag issues.

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