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Guges receive awards

By Staff | Aug 7, 2008

Mark Guge and his son-in-law, Mark More, and grandson, Logan More, make the third, fourth and fifth generation of family farmers in northwest Emmet County. EDN photo by Michael Tidemann

Emmet County cattlemen must be doing something right.

Mark and Norma Guge July 17 received the Region III Environmental Stewardship Award from the National Cattlemen’s Association which includes beef producers in Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois and Wisconsin.

That made them the third Emmet County family to win the regional award in the 18 years it has been given. The award is sponsored by the National Cattlemen’s Association, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Dow AgroSciences and Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Earlier this year the Guges received the Iowa Environmental Stewardship Award from the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association. As regional winners, they’ll be considered for the national award next January at the National Cattlemen’s Association annual meeting in Phoenix, Ariz.

A visit to the Guge place tells you why they won the award. Situated a stone’s throw from the Minnesota line, the spread hugs the Missouri-Mississippi divide with sprawling hills reminiscent of central Montana. Fifty years ago, Mark’s father, Myron, started contour farming long before it was widely popular. He saw a value in the land, and wanted to preserve it for future generations. You might say that’s a Guge legacy, with Mark’s great-grandfather Charles first settling a mile and a half up the road back in 1891.

Today, the Guges run 75 cow-calf pairs and feed out another 300 head. They also raise corn and beans on rotation as well as hay.

For the Guges, conservation is more than a practice. It’s more of a lifestyle.

“I looked at this as a way to honor what my folks had done,” Mark said. His father bought the place Mark and Norma are on now in the mid-1940s. Ten years later, he was building terraces on the property.

“He taught me the right way to do things,” Mark said.

Since 1993, Mark has worked off the farm, at least part-time, helping other producers through the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association and the Iowa Quality Beef Supply Cooperative. In 2006, he added TwoRiver Cattle L.L.C. to help feedlots in the four-state area market premium fed cattle.

Technology has helped a lot in making agriculture more environmentally friendly than ever, he said. In the 1990s, Mark decided to get into rotational grazing in which he’ll let a pasture rest 20-40 days before putting cattle back on it. The result is 11 different types of grasses, some native, on his land.

Like any other industry, Guge and his fellow beef producers have shared knowledge to help better their production and conservation practices.

In the 1990s, Guge, along with Craig White and Dennis DeWitt, ISU Extension Livestock field specialist, organized Iowa Lakes Controlled Grazing, a four-county controlled grazing project. The group received $35,000 from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

The group joined the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Soil and Water Conservation District, ISU Extension, the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, the local chapter of Pheasants Forever and the Iowa Lakes Resource Conservation and Development to review alternative management systems. Mark was appointed project coordinator.

Alternatives addressed included intensive grazing management, improved fertilization, interseeding legumes in grass pastures, planting warm season grasses, increasing paddocks in grazing systems, increasing pasture rest periods, designing pasture watering systems and expanding plant diversity.

Like other Emmet County cattle producers, Mark has used ethanol co-products in his feed ration, including wet cake and syrup.

His crops are no-till drilled which he sees as more economical given fuel costs. “Roundup probably revolutionized things as much as anything we’ve seen happen in row-crop farming,” Guge said.

For the Guges, it isn’t a matter of economics or conservation. It’s both.

“I still have the believe that economics drive everything,” Mark said. “Even though you’re doing conservation, it’s economically driven.”

“There’s a lot of stuff, environmentally, going on out there in agriculture,” Guge said. “I think everyone in agriculture deserves an award.”