Farm boy heads for other pastures
Voigts retires as Wright, Hamilton watershed coordinator
Voigts, a watershed coordinator for the Soil & Water Conservation District offices in both counties, retired on the last day of 2016.
He ended a 42.5-year work career that included psychology and social science teacher at Council Bluffs, 16 years; a naturalist for Wright County, 12 years; and an environmental science and biology teacher for Clarion-Goldfield High School, 8 years.
For the past 6.5 years, Voigts has served as a coordinator for the Boone River Watershed Initiative, specifically for Eagle Creek the past three years.
During that time, he said he takes pride in being instrumental in bringing about the creation of a a new wetland, through a permanent easement, along Eagle Creek, near Clarion, in 2016.
“Of everything I did these few years,” Voigts said, “this one will be around for quite a while.”
The wetland is a U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded project in its Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, which targets high-priority acres with practices designed to remove nitrates from water running off row-cropped fields and preserving soils.
According to Voigts, the wetland is critically placed within the Eagle Creek watershed and will catch the runoff from 1,023 acres. With a lifespan of 150 years, the wetland is expected to remove 1,450 tons of nitrates from tile and surface water runoff, averaging about nine to 10 tons annually.
Voigts grew up on a 160-acre farm in Butler County. Dairy, hay and oats were the farm’s primary enterprises.
“I grew up in a German community,” Voigts said, “real conservative. They used the back of soup labels to make their grocery lists.”
He said his conservation tendencies were modeled by his father.
“He didn’t like plowing in the fall,” Voigts said of his father. “And he wouldn’t throw dirt toward the fence line, since he knew he would lose it” through wind erosion. “And he didn’t want to do that.”
After 16 years of the innercity-like environment of teaching in Council Bluffs, Voigts said he was ready to do something else.
So in 1990, he packed up his household and his conservation values and moved to Wright County to become a naturalist and environmental educator.
Later, he worked for the school district, from 2002 to 2010, and then from 2010- to 2016 with Wright County SWCD as watershed coordinator.
His position has been absorbed by Jordan Kolarik, who also serves as the Pleasant Creek watershed coordinator, based in Kossuth County.
Although much is still to be gained by field management practices to help Iowa reduce its nutrient loads — mainly nitrogen and phosphorus — from surface water runoff and tile drainage, Voigts said he is satisfied to see more farmers planting cover crops for the half-year of no crop production.
Nutrient reduction, Voigts likes to say, “is voluntary, but not optional. There aren’t many (cover crops) in Wright County, but there are lush fields this year around Humboldt County.
“I hear there’s a seed company there that is pushing cover crops.”
A certified pilot, Voigts said he gets a unique bird’s-eye view of central Iowa farmland.
He thinks that if more farmers could get aloft and view their farms from above, they would get a true sense of the environmental impacts their farming practices have on their fields, things that are not obvious at ground level.
“I love working with farmers,” Voigts said. “You get to know their families and their issues. And even those who were resistant to conservation practices, they listened and checked things out.”
In terms of conservation and sustainable farming, Voigts said, Wright and Hamilton counties have some good conservation proponents naming farmers Arliss Nielsen, Tim Smith, and Arlo Van Diest.
Voigts said he’s not ready for the armchair just yet, however.
He wants to keep flying and stay involved in conservation efforts. He also plans to continue driving activity buses for the Clarion school system, and do some substitute teaching there.
“But I’ll be glad to not have to have an alarm clock going off most days,” he said.