Loran Steinlage has the qualities that make a good land steward.
He’s open-minded to innovation, yet patient with the process of trial and error. He welcomes researchers to measure the impact and efficacy of each conservation practice he adopts on his 900-acre farm in Fayette County.
Loran is most passionate about sharing what he’s learned with others, from local youth to farmers from Iowa, Ukraine, or Australia. Whether participating in soil health field days or podcasts, he’s helping forge a new path for modern agriculture.
Loran’s the first to admit he wasn’t always this way. He was once a “conventional” corn and soybean grower focused on yields and renting as much land as possible. When he and his wife Brenda learned their son was diagnosed with brain cancer, he scaled back his rented acreage to spend more time at home. He started looking differently at the land his parents had passed on to him.
While experimenting with cover crops and no-till practices, Loran saw an improvement in his soil’s health. He realized the cover crops would be more robust and beneficial if they were planted sooner. This led him to explore ways to interseed cover crops into standing fields of corn and soybeans.
Before becoming a pioneer in the practice of relay cropping, Loran drew inspiration by connecting with farmers across the nation through social channels and peer groups. Among the farmer mentors he credits with advancing his conservation ethic was the late Dave Brandt of Ohio.
Through global travels and interactions, Loran recognized there’s no room for complacency within mainstream agriculture in the face of environmental challenges ranging from climate change to water pollution. He believes it’s up to farmers to not just be ahead of the curve but to drive the change.
In most cases, there was no blueprint for the changes Loran saw as important, nor did his practices fit within available conservation programs. Undaunted, he cobbled ideas together with his network of peers and brought them home.
Loran works with a variety of organizations to host field trials at his family’s FLOLO Farms. The data collected is used to study the agronomics of conservation practices, water quality impacts, flood mitigation, crop insurance provisions, and market viability of alternative crops and methods.
After altering a row-crop combine to be able to harvest cereal grains in his relay-cropped fields, Loran saw the need to marry agribusiness with stewardship efforts. He works with an agricultural manufacturer to bridge a gap between farmers and the engineers designing farm machinery.
In 2021, when Loran welcomed Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources to survey a stream that dissects his farm, they discovered it was full of trout. Without proper stewardship in the surrounding fields, this stream would not support fish that are extremely sensitive to contaminants in water.
Loran credits growing heritage varieties of corn for a nearby brewery with making his farm ecologically and economically resilient. However, it’s not just an anecdotal success. He believes growing diverse crops, regenerating soil, and ensuring clean water, leads to increased farm profitability, environmental regeneration, and rural invigoration.
As Loran grows his 38th crop of corn this year, he’s as committed as ever to helping others see how conservation advances will impact future crops.