Converting Cropland in Clayton County 

There aren’t many row-crop farmers in Iowa transforming cropland to pasture, but that hasn’t stopped two Clayton county brothers from doing just that.

“The field on top of the hill was narrow, and twenty feet on either side was getting severely damaged by deer. That didn’t leave a lot of productive land left,” says Eric Cherne.

So in 2004, Vernon Cherne started converting the first 50 acres to pasture and installing watering stations. Then in 2008, his sons, Eric and Scott, converted an additional 70 acres of cropland to pasture for the growing Angus operation that their father had started.

The pasture is surrounded by timber, part of the Forest Reserve Program. The trees provide habitat for wildlife and windbreaks for the cattle while reducing erosion on the steep hillsides overlooking the Turkey River in northeast Iowa.

As the third generation in their family to farm the land, the Chernes are committed to using the best management practices. Through rotational grazing and careful pasture management, they are able to maintain one cow-calf pair per acre or better.

Multiple watering stations allow frequent moves to fresh pasture. Overseeding, frost seeding and interseeding with a drill also maintain and even improve the pasture quality from year to year.

The crop-land conversion has worked so well for the family, they’re in the midst of converting another 50 acres. After installing water lines and watering stations, removing terraces and planting a mixture of red clover, white clover and grasses this year, Scott expects to put 50 cow-calf pairs on the new pasture in the spring of 2016.

The site will have 23 paddocks, each roughly 2 acres, divided with poly wire. The cattle will be moved daily or every other day, to allow plenty of time for pasture regrowth.

In all, the brothers have about 250 acres of pasture and 200 Angus cows, which are brought into a pole barn with 22 stalls during spring calving.

Ease of calving is important to the operation, and the Angus cattle perform well. Scott and Eric only assist with a handful of deliveries each year. Their calving barn, bedded with cornstalks from one of their fields, keeps the farmers, cows and calves comfortable during early spring calving.

About half of Chernes’ bull calves are sold as seedstock, and the other half are fed out at a nearby feedlot that Scott owns with another farmer. They keep as many heifers from their herd as possible.

The Chernes have partnered with NRCS and utilized EQIP funds to make improvements and also hosted NRCS trainings at their farm.  In 2012, they partnered with Iowa State University Extension to hold a pasture walk and invite Northeast Iowa Community College beef classes to the farm annually. Scott will be participating in this year’s Young Cattlemen’s Leadership Program.

Both Scott and Eric had full time jobs off the farm before taking on their father’s operation. Eric has 20 years of experience in agronomy, which has no doubt influenced his land management. Scott worked for a genetics company.

But both are committed to their family’s farm now, and proud of the efficiency of the cattle industry here in Iowa.

“Iowa is a great place to raise cattle. In other parts of the country, one cow-calf pair may need 20 acres for grazing. Here, because of our ample rainfall and highly productive soils we are trying to graze pairs on less than one,” says Scott. “It’s all about sustainability.”