Crawl, Walk, Run: Ward Van Dyke’s #MyStewardshipStory
July 1, 2019
By Elizabeth Horn
Ward Van Dyke (right) of Reasnor, IA practices good land stewardship with cover crops, no-till and other sustainable farming methods. He and his son Landon (left) share common ground in finding innovative ways to improve production.
The Land O’ Lakes Sustain program has kicked off a storytelling project to celebrate good stewards of the land. The #MyStewardshipStory campaign recognizes producers across the country who are passionate about sustainable agriculture.
Ward Van Dyke of Reasnor, Iowa, is the embodiment of stewardship. When he and wife, Sandi, started farming in 1986, they raised livestock and crops. Today, they still grow corn and beans, but have added two high-tunnel buildings for sweet corn, tomato and cucumber production.
As he’s become more environmentally conscious, Ward has transitioned from conventional practices to more sustainable ones. He’s applied the “crawl, walk, run” philosophy, slowly switching to no-till and adding vegetable production. The Van Dykes’ four kids grew up helping with the vegetables; their oldest son, Landon, is now a Key Agronomist at the Grinnell Agronomy Center.
Recently, Ward has been exploring the benefits of planting into cover crops. Aside from protecting against erosion and serving as a nutrient catch to reduce runoff into water sources, cover crops help keep moisture and nitrogen fixed in the soil. To learn more about cover crops as a living variable, Ward regularly works with Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI), talks with other farmers and reads research articles. “Depending on location and topography, there are different successful outcomes,” Ward explained. “You can ask others about their experiences, but you also have to know the science behind why it works.”
To reduce leaching in the field, Ward switched from spreading fertilizer every two years to every year. He also does split applications of nitrogen. “We’re looking at a more balanced approach—spreading out inputs means spreading out risk,” Landon explained. Ward utilizes grid sampling, variable rate application of lime, phosphorous and potassium, a Precision Planting® 20/20 Monitor, a Fieldprint® Calculator with Truterra™ Insights and auto-steer in his machinery.
“Be creative,” Landon advises others looking to be good land stewards. “Make your methods variable, and they’ll be more impactful.” Ward agrees with his son and adds that the wise will seek guidance from others. “Get a mentor who has your best interests in mind and surround yourself with good people.”
Ward realizes that good stewardship is about taking care of the land during his lifetime. “We’re all here only just shy of a hundred years, and then eternity in Heaven,” he said. “I’ve encouraged my kids to think outside the box, and that’s what I try to do on the farm. There’s always more than one way to do something. My stewardship story is about continually trying to do better.”
Growing up around vegetable production, Landon discovered a passion for plant science. Today, Landon is a Key Agronomist at the Grinnell Agronomy Center. He routinely introduces new technology and provides creative, sustainable insights for Ward’s operation.