Honoring their family’s farming heritage while adopting new technology is second nature for the Russell family, who place a premium on conservation and renewable energy at their farm near Monticello, Iowa.
“I’m really proud of our family’s deep farming roots,” said Jason Russell, primary manager and part owner of Russell Brothers LLC, which has been named a 2013 Environmental Steward.
These ag roots can be traced back to the Civil War era, when members of the Russell family settled in Linn County, Iowa. Today, the Russell family raises pigs, corn, soybeans and hay on 390 owned acres and 160 custom-farmed acres.
The family built a 7,200-head, tunnel-ventilated wean-to-finish barn in 2003. Today, they market more than 14,000 hogs a year as part of The Maschhoffs production network.
“We like having our pigs inside barns, because it’s more sustainable,” Jason said. “Before, we were concerned about weather harming our animals, and we thought this kind of production would be a better way to improve pigs’ safety. It also allows us to better manage manure to help protect the environment.”
Soil Testing Improves Nutrient Management
The Russells use information from their combine’s yield monitors and take soil samples on 2.5-acre grids to help them use manure nutrients efficiently.
“We have a responsibility to use nutrients in an efficient, sustainable way,” said Jason, who farms with his wife, Sarah, and his brother, Eric. “Knowing precise crop and soil needs through records and testing helps us do that.”
The Russells submit an updated manure management plan to the state each year. To implement the plan, they use a draghose system that transports manure from deep pits under the finish barns directly to their cropland. A GPS-guided system directs the low-disturbance injectors that help prevent over-application.
The Russells send out a letter to notify neighbors to explain how, when and why they apply manure. They also try to be as open as possible about activities at their farm.
“We want consumers to know what we do to produce a healthy, safe product,” said Sarah, an elementary school teacher.
Harnessing the Power of the Wind
This forward-thinking ethic is apparent even before you arrive at the pig barns. The family has planted trees and added landscaping to the farm to improve aesthetics and provide wildlife habitat.
In addition, a 50-kilowatt wind turbine helps the Russells conserve electricity. This turbine generates 60 to 80 percent of the farm’s electrical needs.
“Being located on top of a ridge means we have a lot of wind,” Jason said. “We have engineers in our family who’ve worked with energy production their whole career, so it just comes naturally that we apply that to our farming operation, as well.”
Conservation and sustainability have been important to the Russell family for generations. “My grandfather and father were early adopters of new soil conservation technology and practices,” said Jason, whose father Dennis and uncles Dave, Ralph, Moe and John are still involved in the farming operation.
Their expertise helps guide the business decisions that will impact the farm for years to come, Jason added.
“The land is something that will outlive us all, and we need to keep it productive. It’s about doing what’s right today to help ensure a farming future for the next generation.”
Stewards Combine Ingenuity, Integrity
Russell Brothers LLC joins other pork operations across the country in their commitment to protecting natural resources while minimizing the environmental footprint. Other 2013 Pork Industry Environmental Stewards selected by the Pork Checkoff’s Environmental Stewards subcommittee include:
• Bacon Hill Farm, Dodge, Neb.
• Krikke Pork, Greenwich, Ohio
• Blue Mountain Farms, Milford, Utah
“The forward-thinking 2013 Stewards focus on innovative solutions and ideas on their farms,” said Lynn Harrison, chair of the Environmental Stewards selection subcommittee and former president of the National Pork Board. “They are doing all this while adhering to the industry’s We CareSM ethical principles.”
Now in its 19th year, the Environmental Stewards award recognizes producers who demonstrate a firm commitment to safeguarding the environment and their local communities. The winners were chosen earlier this year based on their manure management systems, water and soil conservation practices, odor-control strategies, farm aesthetics, neighbor relations, wildlife habitat promotion and innovative ideas used to protect the environment. The judges represented pork producers and environmental organizations.
To take a video tour of the 2013 Environmental Stewards’ farms, visit http://video.pork.org/.