Eddy Stock Farm
Appanoose county producers has always valued the land and the animals - livestock and wildlife - who depend on it
Son of a longtime soil and water district commissioner, Randy Eddy has been on the forefront of conservation measures for his whole life.
From a large-scale biomass energy venture to smaller, independent projects to improve his farm, Eddy never shied away from innovation or initiative in the name of conservation and his cattle operation. As president of Chariton Valley Beef, his eye towards the future led to an information-sharing initiative between sectors of the industry that was, in the end, ahead of its time.
And when thousands of other Iowa farmers converted their pasture to row-crop ground because of high corn prices, Eddy did the opposite. Forgoing the increased profit potential of continuing to raise corn and soybeans on his land, Eddy converted it into pasture for the sake of soil heath and water quality.
As a respected leader in Iowa’s cattle industry, Eddy’s decades of improvements will have a lasting impact on the land he manages and the larger Iowa cattle industry for years to come.
Randy and Denise Eddy operate the Appanoose County farm established by Randy’s parents 60 years ago, in 1958. The majority of the farm is used as hay or pasture ground for Eddy’s cow/calf operation. Approximately 150 acres of flat ground are leased to a row-crop farmer, and 250 acres of former row-crop ground have been converted to pasture. About 65 acres are standing timber.
Although the Eddys have been active in the seedstock industry in the past, they’ve moved to a more commercial, Angus-based cow/calf operation over the years.
Eddy’s hay ground is alfalfa based, while the pasture incorporates bluegrass, brome grass, switchgrass, white clover, fescue, foxtail and other species. Eddy manages his pastures much like a row-crop operation, soil testing and fertilizing as needed to make the most of his land. In the early spring, Eddy frost-seeds his pastures, and in areas where cattle were overwintered, he uses a harrow to break up hard manure, allowing it to work into the soil more evenly and efficiently.
Throughout the season, Eddy utilizes rotational grazing, moving the cattle when the grass is about 6 to 8 inches high, which helps to maintain pasture productivity without depleting resources. To also help preserve soil health and reduce erosion, Eddy has incorporated terraces into his particularly hilly pastures.
Eddy has built 11 ponds in his pastures. The ponds are fenced off and the cattle do not have access, preserving the pond and surrounding grassland for pollinator and wildlife habitat. A gravity system carries water from the ponds to nearby pastures, providing water for the cows without allowing them access to the waterway. In other pastures, Rathbun Rural Water Alliance water lines run to waterers throughout the pastures. Energy free systems rely on ground heat to keep waterers from freezing in the winter.
The Cattle Herd
Eddy manages his herd to maximize efficiency and minimize labor needs. He calves every year in late March and early April, and then weans around September 1, backgrounding calves for the next few months.
Checking his herd every day, he keeps notes year-round on cattle performance, and then makes culling and heifer retention decisions based on those notes.
Disposition ranks high on the list of priorities. Eddy also takes into consideration weaning weight on calves and udder quality. He culls aggressively to continue herd improvement and retains heifers based on the same priorities.
Herd sires are chosen for disposition, then calving ease, then performance and carcass traits. His genetics include calving ease bulls that have the desired growth traits, a perfect combination for a low-maintenance herd.
Eddy uses EPDs, but prefers to buy bulls from proven sires because of the accuracy they provide. He also tries to get data back from feedlot operators who purchase his feeder cattle, allowing him to analyze rate of gain, carcass yield and quality to make further herd improvements.
Managing in Drought Conditions
Southern Iowa suffered from drought conditions in 2017, and Eddy began offering his cows hay relatively early in the summer, before pasture conditions had deteriorated dramatically. This supplementation prevented the grasses from being overgrazed and stunting later plant growth. By feeding hay, Eddy was able to maintain several inches of forage in his pastures, which protects root development and leads to more rapid recovery in the spring following drought.
Managing pastures carefully during drought also minimizes future pressure from weeds and invasive species, further helping to control the musk thistle population in Eddy’s area.
Converting Row Crop Land
Row-crop production is the principal use of land in Appanoose County (and much of Iowa) and approximately 21% of Iowa’s pastureland was converted to cropland from 2007 to 2012. Rising corn prices during that time made row-cropping a more profitable endeavor than raising cattle. However, during that same time frame, Eddy converted between 250 and 300 acres of former row-crop land into pasture, forgoing the profit opportunities in favor of increased conservation and sustainability.
Fields susceptible to erosion were seeded down with alfalfa initially, and slowly transitioned to pasture when the alfalfa stand thinned and Eddy added other varieties of grasses and legumes.
Changes in land-use, especially in the rolling hills of southern Iowa, have an enormous effect on environmental sustainability. As row-crop land is converted to pasture or grassland, nitrogen losses are cut by approximately 85% and phosphorus losses cut by 59%.
Renovating Former Mines
The Cooper Creek valley once contained sand strip mines, which left a wasteland in their wake. Eddy and his father rehabilitated the former mines in the 2000s, utilizing their own heavy equipment to fill in the pits and convert the landscape to pasture.
With the hillsides stabilized, the Eddys seeded them down and then used their cows to help improve the soil over the years. Eddy reports that rolling out hay bales strategically on the fragile land helped deposit cattle manure where needed, improving soil health while minimizing outside inputs.
Eddy and his father began planting switchgrass to diversify their pasture, provide wildlife habitat and improve soil health. In addition to haying and grazing the switchgrass, they also harvested the seed and sold the stover to the state of Iowa to use in mulching roadside plantings.
In the mid-1990s, Eddy took part in an innovative research project to lay the groundwork for commercial biomass energy production.
Working with local agricultural groups as well as federal cost-share programs, more than 40 farmers planted switchgrass to be used as a replacement for coal in a local electricity plant. After several years of research and shorter test burns, a three month test burn of coal and switchgrass was completed at the Ottumwa Generating Station in Chillicothe, Iowa in 2006. During that period, the test burn generated nearly 20 million kilowatt-hours of electricity from the renewable switchgrass fuel, a world record. The electricity generated would power nearly 2,000 average Iowa homes for an entire year.
he experiment also reduced emissions of the primary greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2), by more than 50,000 tons. A combination of reductions from the power plant and absorption of carbon dioxide from the air during the switchgrass growth cycle contributed to this reduction. Switchgrass stores a portion of the carbon it absorbs in its root system, which also improves soil health.
Although switchgrass powered electricity was not able to gain traction, the biomass project helped producers like the Eddys improve conservation practices over a 10 year period and many of those benefits are still in place today. The Eddys currently have 60 acres of solid switchgrass as well as thinner stands of switchgrass throughout other pastures. The switchgrass provides habitat for wildlife and birds, revitalizing hunting opportunities in the area.
"“We continually work to close the loop in our system,” says Seth. “Feedlot manure is composted on site during the summer. As we combine our corn and haul it in, the truck dumps a load of corn at the bunker and then loads compost and hauls it back to the field."
As an active bow hunter, Eddy has made choices throughout the years that maximize the habitat and food available to native wildlife. The standing switchgrass provides habitat for grasshopper sparrows, sedge wrens, northern harrier, ring-necked pheasant and common yellowthroats. Rabbits and deer also seek refuge in the switchgrass
Eddy has also planted food plots for wildlife throughout the farm. The food plots are primarily alfalfa based, and provide forage for deer and other wildlife. The plots are scattered throughout Eddy’s land, encouraging deer to move from location to location, allowing for better hunting.
Trail cameras on the farm show proof of robust pheasant, quail, deer, river otter, wild turkey and even bobcat populations in the area. Bald eagles nest in the area and can frequently be seen flying overhead.
Throughout the state of Iowa, there has been a large initiative for the conservation of monarch butterflies, because of a significant decline in the monarch population worldwide for the past decade. Farmers in Iowa have had a hand in helping the butterflies by creating lush plant habitats for monarchs to nest and live during their migrational period on the Midwest during the spring and summer months, and milkweed flourishes in Eddy’s switchgrass stands, providing valuable pollinator habitat.
Eddy also has three large, natural bee-hives on his property. He believes that the plant diversity in his pasture helps to support these bee colonies.
Chariton Valley Beef
Eddy is past president of Chariton Valley Beef Initiative (CVB), which was started in 1997 by producers seeking to improve their herd management skills and simultaneously look into value-added markets. Individualized computer analysis of past carcass data was a key product supplied to CVB members.
At one point, more than 350 producers from 23 counties in Iowa took part in the initiative, which was organized as a 501-C (5) nonprofit corporation. Participating cow/calf producers used individual animal IDs (official CVB ear tags) and calves were source-verified. Calves were sold to feeders who marketed the cattle on a grid. Carcass data was then returned to the feeder and the cow/calf producer.
This data helped producers in all sectors of the industry make improvements in cattle management that also led to improvements in sustainability. Carcass and performance data helped Eddy, in particular, improve his seedstock and cow/calf operation to produce a higher quality carcass with more feed efficiency.
The initiative also aimed to improve long-term farm sustainability by helping producers secure value-added opportunities for their cattle. Local livestock barns held “source-verified” feeder cattle sales, and in 1999, 4,000 head of feeder cattle averaged $2.11 more than non-source-verified calves. Feeders who took advantage of the grid marketing benefitted from $20-50 per head premiums.
2018 ESAP Award
It is all of these initiatives and more that led the ICA Environmental Stewardship Award committee to select Randy Eddy as the 2018 winner.
Randy Eddy's niece, an assistant professor and doctor at the University of Iowa hospitals, summed up the impact Eddy and others like him have on not just Iowa's cattle industry, but the well-being of the entire state.“My generation is indebted to the 'Uncle Randy’s' of America – those men (and women) who not only farm this country but in doing so have sought ways to make their land better for future generations and improve the yield on their animal product in the short term as well. Randy has shown our community again and again that when we put our land as a priority, the quality of one’s cattle also rise to the top.”