Beef operation wins Iowa stewardship award

The Robbins family — Justin and Lacie Robbins — has been named the 2021 Iowa Environmental Stewardship Award Program winner.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Environmental Stewardship Award Program recognizes the stewardship practices and conservation achievements of cattle producers who care for the land with as much dedication as they care for their livestock.

The Robbins family (from left) Lacie, McKinley and Justin Robbins. (Iowa Cattlemen's Association)

Robbins Land & Cattle will compete against nominees from Missouri, Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin. Regional winners for the national award will be announced in late July. Six regional winners will be recognized at the national level, where one is selected as the winner.

Robbins Land & Cattle is situated along the North Raccoon River in Greene County. The enterprise has pasture and row crop ground in Carroll County, roughly 15 miles from their farmstead.

Key features include: hills, valleys and land along the river, which could use “time to heal.” Justin uses both flat and rolling pasture land for rotational grazing. Grazing rotations occur frequently — roughly once a week on pasture ground in Carroll County and every three weeks on ground along the riverbank — so native grasses remain ankle high or taller.

Cover crops

“We’ve heavily incorporated cover crops,” Justin says.

He first started utilizing cover crops in 2013, primarily seeding them on harvested corn acres. Justin now strives to establish cover crops on at least half his farming operation. He sees cover crops as an opportunity to suppress weed pressure, reduce input costs and retain essential nutrients.

From rotational grazing to cover crop seeding, Justin’s efforts to improve water quality and soil health on his crop acres go hand-in-hand with his purebred Angus operation.

Over the past 18 years, Justin has dedicated a lot of time and energy to enhancing his farming operation. From rebuilding and implementing farm ponds on pasture ground to establishing cover crops on a large portion of his row crop acres, Justin strives to leave the land better today than he found it yesterday.

Doug Hawn, his mentor and former business partner, always supported Justin in his sustainable endeavors.

“He was extremely open to cover crops. Everywhere we used them was on his ground,” Justin says. Justin continues to build off the foundation he and Doug established together.

Sustainability goals

“I want to leave the land better today than how I found it yesterday,” Justin says. He says this is his responsibility as a cattle producer and row crop farmer: “to manage weeds and feed the soil.” Justin plans to achieve this by:

  • Incorporating cover crops on at least 50 percent of his row crop acres
  • Establishing cover crops on 100 percent of incoming soybean acres
  • Maximizing the profitability of manure on his farming operation
  • Cleaning up pasture for more intensive rotational grazing
  • Turning marginal crop acres into hay or pasture ground
  • Engaging with local and state agencies on program development