CATTLE-RAISING COUPLE, ENGINEER AND LEGISLATOR NAMED DISTINGUISHED SERVICE TO AG WINNERS AT IOWA FARM BUREAU ANNUAL MEETING
WEST DES MOINES, IOWA – Dec. 9, 2011 – Bill and Nancy Couser are cattle producers who constantly look ahead to the next opportunity to improve not only their operation, but their industry. Stewart Melvin is an engineer who specializes in agricultural water issues that help farmers best care for the environment. Dolores Mertz is an 11-term state representative for District 8 who champions Iowa agriculture. The efforts of these Iowans have furthered the cause of Iowa agriculture and rural communities over the past few decades, earning the Cousers, Melvin and Mertz the 2011 Iowa Farm Bureau Distinguished Service to Agriculture Award. All were recognized during the Iowa Farm Bureau (IFBF) annual meeting in Des Moines, Dec. 7.
The award honors individuals who have played a significant role in the agricultural industry at the local, state and/or national level. This is the 34th year for the award. The three winners received plaques and will be added to a permanent display at IFBF headquarters in West Des Moines.
Bill and Nancy Couser
While Bill and Nancy Couser of Nevada are recognized leaders in Iowa agriculture, they’re quick to point out that they are life-long learners; always ready to pursue new opportunities and technologies that can benefit their farm, industry and environment.
While the Cousers grew up in small towns with a love for agriculture and livestock, they both worked in other careers before starting the Couser Cattle Company 20 years ago. After a modest beginning with 24 cows, Couser Cattle Co. is now a second and third generation multi-faceted operation that annually feeds and finishes 5,000 to 6,000 head of cattle and farms 5,000 acres, producing both corn seed and soybean seed. Their son, Tim, works on the farm.
The Cousers rely on science-based research to help them run a farm that is economically stable and environmentally responsible. They have worked with a number of organizations and institutions including partnering with the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association (ICA), National Resource Service Center, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Iowa State University (ISU) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop a pilot system to replace the effluent basin with a series of vegetative treatment areas and infiltration systems to treat feedlot runoff to an acceptable standard and working with the DNR and Iowa State to build a mono-slope style feeding building that directs rainfall away from a new pen and allows more feeding capacity without compromising the vegetative buffer system.
The Cousers have also been instrumental in the development of Lincolnway Energy, a 50-million gallon local-investor owned ethanol plant which opened in 2006. Located just seven miles from their feedlot, the plant offers an opportunity for them to demonstrate the concept of a sustainable cycle. Couser leads tours of the plant and his farm, explaining how he raises seed corn for ethanol, uses the dried distillers’ grains for cattle feed and then uses the cattle manure to fertilize the next corn crop.
Farm Bureau has been a long-time source of information and opportunity for Bill and Nancy. They were honored as Outstanding Young Farmers from IFBF in 1981. Since then, the Cousers have been honored with a number of state and national awards for conservation and community service. Bill was named as one of 10 People Who Matter by Time magazine in 2006. He has been a director of the Story County Cattlemen's Association for 33 years, chair of ICA's business issues committee and a past vice chairman of National Cattlemen’s Beef Association animal health committee. He is a former and current president of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, a director of Iowa's Institute of Cooperatives and a director of the Nevada Economic Board.
Nancy has worked as a nurse for 30 years at Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames and has served as a director of the Iowa Beef Industry Council, Story County 4-H board, Story County planning and zoning and was a governor-appointed member of the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission.
While Stewart Melvin is an engineer by trade, he’s described as a “farmer at heart,” by the Davis County Farm Bureau which nominated him for the Distinguished Service to Ag Award.
He grew up on a family farm near Bloomfield and still owns and manages farmland in Davis County. Stewart spent most of his career as a professor of agricultural engineering at Iowa State University (ISU). He received all of his degrees, including his Ph.D., from Iowa State. He has been a licensed engineer in Iowa since 1969. He also taught at Silsoe College in the United Kingdom from 1985-86.
He worked for 34 years as an extension agricultural engineer in Iowa working as a soil, water and waste management specialist prior to retiring from ISU in 2004. He also served as head of the Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Department at ISU for eight years.
Melvin served as the interim director for the Iowa State Water Resources Research Institute from 2002-04.
Upon his retirement from ISU, Melvin joined Curry-Wille & Associates (CWA) to work on animal waste management issues, as well as other soil and water engineering projects. He has had international consulting experience in Europe, South America, southeast Asia and Mexico.
Melvin has dedicated his professional life to working to improve agricultural waste management systems and drainage systems. From working with the environmental committee for the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association to leading water quality projects in Poland and Russia, Melvin has served farmers in Iowa and beyond.
He’s been recognized for his achievements including receiving the Engineer of the Year award from the mid-central regional American Society of Agricultural Engineers in 1991 and 1992 and honored with the Iowa Master Farmer Exceptional Service Award in 2004.
Agriculture has always been a central part of Dolores Mertz’s life. Whether that meant working beside her husband, H.P. “Pete,” on the family’s Kossuth County farm for 32 years to representing Iowa farmers during her 22-year tenure in the Iowa House of Representatives, Mertz has dedicated her life to agriculture. In 2010, she retired from the Iowa House of Representatives after 11 terms.
She started as a farm wife and bank teller in Kossuth County and became the first woman to serve as a Kossuth County supervisor. She was appointed to the board of supervisors in 1983 when her husband passed away and his vacancy needed to be filled. Mertz won a special election in 1984 to complete the remaining two years of his term and, in 1986, she was elected to a four-year term.
Mertz was elected to the House of Representatives in 1988, representing House District 8 which includes Humboldt and Pocahontas counties, southern Kossuth County and northwestern Webster County.
Mertz used her practical knowledge of agriculture as she served on the House Ag Committee for 22 years. She was the first woman appointed as the chair of the House Ag Committee in 2007 and served as the senior Democrat on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, with responsibilities for funding conservation and farm programs. She has also been recognized as an Iowa Farm Bureau “Friend of Agriculture” and has served on the Iowa Environmental Protection Council. She may be the first woman to proudly acknowledge her unofficial title as “Queen of Drainage,” as she was extremely knowledgeable about the complex law involving Iowa drainage districts.
In its nomination of Mertz, the Kossuth County Farm Bureau wrote, “Coming from an agricultural background, Dolores took this knowledge to the Legislature. She made sure that Iowa stayed focused on agriculture…she fought hard for the ideas that were important to the Iowa Farm Bureau.”
Mertz has also been a local 4-H leader for 25 years, in addition to a number of community activities and leadership roles.
Editor’s Note: To download a photo of these people receiving their award, visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/iowafarmbureau/sets/72157628293522923/. They are joined by Craig Lang, IFBF past president, on their left and Craig Hill, IFBF newly-elected president, on their right.
About Iowa Farm Bureau
The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation is a grassroots, statewide organization dedicated to enhancing the People, Progress and Pride of Iowa. More than 153,000 families in Iowa are Farm Bureau members, working together to achieve farm and rural prosperity. For more information about Farm Bureau and agriculture, visit the online media center at www.iowafarmbureau.com.