Aldo Leopold, Southeast Iowa’s own famous conservationist, once said, “Conservation is a state of harmony between men and the land.”
Local agricultural banker Gretchen McLain was just appointed by Governor Kim Reynolds to a five-person board that will allow her to expand her role in helping young and underserved farmers trying to maintain that peaceful coexistence.
“As an ag lender, I help farmers looking for operating money for the next year or to buy a chunk of ground or some type of equipment or even cows and pigs,” explained McLain. “We help them gather resources for the farm like any other normal business.”
In McLain’s new role, she will meet monthly with the other four appointees in Des Moines or via conference call, depending on schedules and availability.
“My appointment, which begins May 1 and still has to be approved by the Iowa State senate, is to the Agricultural Development Board through the Iowa Finance Authority and won’t hinder my role with the bank,” explained McLain who grew up on a farm 10 miles north of Fairfield with her twin sister Kendra still maintaining the land and tending to the cattle, hogs and row crops that have covered the property for decades.
McLain went to Iowa State and then worked for U.S. Department of Agriculture in the farm agency for 10 years before taking her current role with Libertyville Savings Bank in Fairfield.
Her and her husband have a farm in Stockport and they raise corn and soybeans and swine themselves.
Although Iowa’s conservative governor Reynolds appointed McLain, Gretchen is openly independent as a voting citizen and there is no political affiliation to the board or it’s members. McLain’s also unbiased when it comes to helping farmers, but it doesn’t hurt having on of the five people making those decisions in the area.
“This program can be utilized by young farmers and while there is an application process and you must meet certain parameters, we want to help farmers,” said McLain.
“It’s very hard for a young person to start in farming without some kind of assistance from some kind of family member, meaning passed down land or equipment, because it’s very expensive and it’s a lot of hard work and you have to really have the passion and want to farm because it’s a tough lifestyle.”
What is ag conservation to you?
“Conserving our ground and our natural resources in order for the next generation to be able to be sustainable in agriculture. We want to make sure we are good to our soil and put back the nutrients that we take off, which I would say most of our farmers want to do that exact thing, because this is their livelihood and they want to do what is right for the ground and the land because they want this to be able to be passed down through the next generation to take over as well.”
What can farmers do?
“You want to make sure you no-till in the proper places and put in buffer strips to hold the soil where it needs to be so you don’t have as much erosion,” explained McLain. “You’re going to have some natural wind, but I would say on the normal basis the farmers try to do what’s best for the ground so they are going to put those waterways in.”
The health of ag conservation in the area?
“Our local Farm Bureaus are an intricate part that bring the community and the farm people together for those educational purposes and I would like to thank them for always backing me.”
Not motivated by money “You have to have a passion for agriculture and really want to do it to put in the long hours it takes every single day in order to make a small profit, or you can go to town and have an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job and maybe make three times that amount, but be miserable. A lot of people think farmers make a lot of money and that is not the case.”
Important to keep farmers diversified
“It makes the food system sustainable and buyers have options and I would say that’s better,” said McLain. “When you go to the store, there aren’t just one kind of apple and not every one in the country has as many options. You can decide your pallet and what price your going to purchase food at and the consumer dictates the market and what we want to produce. The farmer is doing his best to produce the absolute best product, weather that’s for the consumers in the community through the farmer’s market or abroad through exporting it to a different state or country.”
Why so many pigs?
“Why do we have a lot of swine here, because they eat corn and it’s cheaper for them to produce a pig in Iowa versus somewhere else.”
Thanks to you
“I want to shout out our local farmers,” concluded McLain. “They do an excellent job here in the community.”