To the casual observer, the rolling countryside of central Missouri is a rustic setting that’s seen little change over the past decades. But look beyond the fruit orchards and cornfields, and you’ll find the 21st century is right at home on the farm of David and Sharon Stephens, who have been named 2014 Pork Industry Environmental Stewards.
At David and Sharon Stephens well-manicured farm in Malta Bend, Mo., you’d never guess that 4,500 sows are housed yards away from their home, with another 2,500 sows a half mile away.
Their home is next to the farm’s original barn, which houses gestation and farrowing sows. There is virtually no odor to interrupt visitors to the Stephens’ landscaped backyard that includes a fish pond and wildlife oasis.
“Having our children involved has been a large part of our family since we moved here,” said David, who started working on the farm in 1982 and found it a great place for him and his wife to raise their four children.
Preparing Now for a Sustainable Future
You don’t need to talk to David very long to see his enthusiasm for adopting new technology to improve environmental sustainability.
Solar panels line the roofs of several buildings and have been placed at the ground level in various locations. “Every kilowatt that comes from the solar panels is free energy that’s not producing pollution anywhere,” David said. “Our use of solar is too new yet to know what it’s actually going to provide, but it should pretty well keep our electric bill to a minimum. We’re looking forward to that.”
The farm also uses a Dicam control system. This collects an assortment of data from each barn, allowing David to monitor everything from a central location, including the cab of his tractor. “It records everything that happens regarding the environment – how much water is used, how much propane is used, what the temperatures are,” said Phillip Smith, one of the farm’s sow barn managers. “If there’s a problem, it will dial out for us, and an alarm system is built in,” Smith said. “At the end of the day, it’s an important tool to help us ensure that pigs are receiving good care.”
Providing pigs with the best care means consumers are getting the best product for their families.
“We’re raising pork in a better, cleaner environment,” David said. “As things have evolved, we’ve learned to make changes in our systems to better care for our pigs.”
Pork Quality Assurance® Plus training is important on the farm to educate employees on how to best care for the animals, David said. “This in turn helps ensure that we produce a better quality product for consumers.”
Nutrient Management System Offers Environmental Benefits
This focus on quality also extends to nutrient management on the farm. Manure from the barns is applied to cropland at agronomic rates using a draghose injection system. Before manure is injected, soil samples are taken to ensure that nutrients from the manure are adequate for the crops.
Manure pumps are monitored and controlled remotely through a computer or smartphone, as well as through a remote-controlled tractor system. All of this technology allows the farm to practice limited tillage to ensure minimal erosion and greater sustainability, helping to adhere to the farm’s nutrient management plan. Thanks to improved manure application technologies, the farm hasn’t used commercial fertilizer on the majority of crop ground since the mid-1980s.
To keep their rich crop ground from losing fertility, the Stephens family also constructs terraces on hilly ground when needed, relies on grass waterways and tiles risers for water drainage and rotates crops for soil conservation.
Serving Beyond the Farm
To be a good neighbor, David makes sure to keep air quality at its best. This initial commitment was established when siting the barns away from main roads and creating a buffer zone by placing barns half a mile apart.
His family has also worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to establish wind breaks and odor abatement by planting trees around the barns. In addition, David added cedar trees to assist with dust control.
“With the good quality of the air and the neat appearance of the farm, people can’t believe when they pull up to the house that there are 7,000 sows close by,” David said.
David and Sharon remain active both on the farm and in their community. Sharon started a local 4-H club after they moved to Malta Bend. She has served as co-superintendent for the 4-H/FFA rabbits at the Missouri State Fair for 28 years and counting. She also offers clinics and judges 4-H and FFA county rabbit shows.
David has hosted the State Young Farmers group and has spoken to many audiences about farming. He attends annual environmental sessions at the University of Missouri to help keep Stephens Farms on the leading edge of environmentally friendly technology. He also attends events and expos across the country to ensure he’s current on the latest environmental stewardship information.
“We’ve been given this land to take care of for future generations, including my children, my grandchildren and your children,” David said. “We want to leave this a better place.”