2019 Iowa Master Farmer winner focuses on sustainability

Maddie Hokanson
for Tri-State Livestock News

From the time the Buss family started their farm in 1972 to today, their focus on sustainability has always been a top priority.

Larry and Bunny Buss, corn and soybean farmers from Logan, Iowa, were selected as one of four recipients of the 2019 Iowa Master Farmer Award. Beginning in 1926, the award judging focuses on three components originally from the Wallace Farmer magazine’s motto – “Good Farming, Clear Thinking, Right Living.”

Starting in 1972 with the purchase of 19 acres in the Loess Hills of western Iowa, Larry and Bunny have been farming for over 40 years. They now have operations in both western Iowa as well as eastern Nebraska.

“Starting out, we just had a pickup, and we hired people to do the mowing and raking on the alfalfa,” said Larry. “The following year, we got another piece of farm ground and have continued growing since.”

Today they have several thousand acres, sons Troy and Jason along with daughters-in-law Sharon and Jennifer involved in their farming operation, and one grandson, Jordan, back on the farm. There is also room for their granddaughter, Jessie, to return if she chooses after college.

When asked what has made things work for so many years, Larry had a couple pieces of advice to share.

Focus on sustainability

“In the late 70s, almost every acre was moldboard plowed, even the land on hills and highly erodible soil,” Larry said. “Today, almost everyone around us does no-till. We even have some pieces of ground that have been no-till for at least 35 years.”

Not only has no-till helped with keeping nutrients in the soil and decreasing erosion, but it has also increased their yields significantly.

“It’s made such a difference that places where deep ruts and ravines that used to be there are now gone, so our need for building terraces has decreased considerably. We’ve also seen an increase in soil health. You can dig anywhere on our land and find earthworms everywhere.”

Another major advantage to no-till for Larry and Bunny Buss has been a decrease in their fuel consumption and machinery use, allowing the machinery they have, to last a lot longer.

When it comes to cover crops, Larry shared that they started with them about six years ago and continue to utilize cereal rye predominantly when they have soybean stubble going to corn to further enhance erosion control.

“We’ve seen some intense rains during our growing season in recent years that have caused some erosion problems. Cover crops make erosion very minimal.”

Set goals

“You have to set goals. I’ve had goals for 50 years, whether they were personal, business or financial. You need goals to know where you want to get to. That way, when things are adverse, you keep focused on where you want to go even if it gets hard.”

For Larry, farming has been his fun and recreation time, but he also believes you need to be a great manager. Paying close attention to the details of his business was what allowed them to get through the 80s farm crisis.

Don’t make all the decisions

“It’s a great feeling to be able to work with your kids,” said Larry. “I’ve been very keen on making sure I wasn’t the person making many of the decisions, especially as my sons got older.”

He went on to say that he feels confident when it is his time to go, his sons and grandson will easily be able to continue the farm without an issue.

“It’s a good thing in agriculture to have family engaged and to have them be part of your legacy.”

Larry graduated with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering from Iowa State University and a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Nebraska. Beyond farming, he spent 41 years working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before he retired in 2007.

Bunny was a music major in college and has been a stay-at-home mom most of her life. She also taught piano lessons for years and played a large role in expanding music knowledge and appreciation in their community.

As Larry put it, “She’s basically retired from the tractor now, but Bunny could run those as well as anyone for years. She’s been an integral part of our operation.”

Larry also attributes his job in town to part of what got them through the tough years and allowed them to succeed.

“We’ve been able to purchase land almost every year except a couple in the 80s, beginning in 1972. Having a good land-buying program has been a big key to long-term success.”

One of Larry and Bunny’s sons also started a business their farm runs where they buy raw limestone and grind it into a fine powder, which is then turned into pelletized limestone. Those additional business ventures and sources of income have also attributed to the Buss’ success over the years.

Success for the Buss family has been about more than just business. Larry has been involved in numerous organizations in his local community, at the state level, and even agricultural organizations at the national level. Some of them include the Corn Growers at all levels, the United States Grains Council, their local Kiwanis club, and he has utilized his engineering degree to head several committees to build levees that have kept I-29 and other major interstates open during flooding.

“We feel very pleased and very humbled to get this award,” said Larry. “We’ve worked from nothing and worked it up through focus, hard work and goal setting, and this award is such an honor for us.”

In total, 485 farm families have been recognized for this prestigious award since 1926. Larry and Bunny Buss have been a great example of a deserving family for it, and they look forward to remaining involved in agriculture for years to come.

“We know it is important to protect our environment on a voluntary basis, and we truly believe we have made every piece of land we own and operate better by the way we farm it,” both Larry and Bunny said. “Our family lives here, we drink the water, and we do everything in our power to do good for the environment in every way we can.”