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After his old combine started on fire during harvest in 2022, Steinlage bought this John Deere S660 on auction without inspecting under the shields. “This summer we finally started to tear into it, and everybody's reminded me since you don't buy a service manager's combine,” Steinlage says. “Apparently he knew just what the heck to do to make it keep going.” Steinlage found wear strips in the sieves from too much dirt going through them, a junk gearbox and a lot of parts that need to be replaced. The repairs ended up costing an additional $30,000, but he still came out within the insurance payout of the old combine. Photo by: Michaela Paukner

Forward-Thinking Farming Leverages Relay Cropping, Technology

2023 Conservation Ag Operator Fellow Loran Steinlage reflects on a year of highs & lows

“I’m going to do a morbid thing,” says No-Till Farmer’s 2023 Conservation Ag Operator Fellow Loran Steinlage as he drives up the road past his heirloom wheat field in West Union, Iowa, in early October. The field shares a boundary with the city cemetery, and from atop a hill, Steinlage can almost see the home farm

“I could buy this corner plot right here so I could see our farm after a couple more years of erosion — if we don’t stop the damn erosion,” he says with a laugh.

The future of his operation and the agriculture industry weighed on the No-Till Innovator throughout 2023. David Brandt, Steinlage’s mentor and close friend, died unexpectedly in May, leaving Steinlage with a mission to carry on Brandt’s vision to create a farmer-to-farmer learning center in southwestern Wisconsin.

As he was deep into the planning of an event to rally support for the center, Steinlage learned he’d been chosen as the 2023 Iowa Leopold Conservation Award recipient. The honor recognized his longtime commitment to innovation, teaching other farmers and being a good steward of the land. With tears in his eyes and three of his grandkids by his side, Steinlage formally accepted the award in mid-December at the Big Soil Health Event.

Shovel-of-Soil

A shovel of soil from one of Loran Steinlage's West Union, Iowa, fields is a model of the crumbly “chocolate cake” structure that’s indicative of good soil health. Cover crops contributed to major change in his soils in as

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Michaela paukner

Michaela Paukner

Michaela Paukner is the managing editor of No-Till Farmer, Strip-Till Farmer and Cover Crop Strategies. Her previous journalism experience includes working as a reporter for a legal magazine and as a producer for two Wisconsin TV news stations. She has also worked with clients across the globe as a freelance writer and marketing consultant, and as a brand manager for a Wisconsin-based boutique marketing agency. She's a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

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