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Louisa County man named Iowa Tree Farmer of the Year

Louisa County man named Iowa Tree Farmer of the Year

COLUMBUS JUNCTION (AP) — There hasn’t been a crop on it in years, but the way Richard Stoneking sees it, his 185 tree-covered acres still are a farm.

There’s just a different kind of harvest.

Instead of corn or beans, there are pecans and walnuts, pears and apples, a never-ending supply of firewood, wildlife galore and the blazing colors of spring and fall foliage.

And this year, The Hawk Eye reports it yielded something new: the title of 2015 Iowa Tree Farmer of the Year.

Although she works with plenty of landowners who are “dedicated” to planting trees, Iowa Department of Natural Resources district forester Lisa Louck, who nominated him for the award, said Stoneking tops the list.

“He is showing the care put into those trees is really going to have a great return, the quality of what is out there and the legacy it leaves behind,” said Louck, who works out of the DNR’s office in Wapello.

She praised Stoneking’s emphasis on not only diversity, but aesthetics, neither of which are traditional concerns of farmers planting trees. Situated on a hill above the Iowa River northwest of this Louisa County town, the farm was a collection of small, hard-to-access fields, none of them bigger than 10 acres. Of the entire 185 acres, just 110 were not already in timber before Stoneking got started planting trees in 1975. He started out filling in odd-shaped corners where it was difficult for farmers who were renting the ground to move equipment. As an erosion control measure, he started planting beyond those odd corners. Today, five ponds and thousands of trees in dozens of species, many native to Iowa but some not, fill the acres where crops once grew.

“I’ve got a little bit of everything,” he said. End-ofseason closeouts at big-box hardware and grocery store garden centers are great places to buy trees cheap. Taking dead or dying trees off other peoples’ property, even planting from seed — a stand of shell bark hickory, among his oldest trees at about 42 or 43 years, grew from nuts brought home from a hunting trip in Missouri — have contributed to the man-made forest that surrounds his home.

The 72-year-old Stoneking has called this land home since 1956, when his father and grandfather bought it. He took ownership in 1971.

“Someday I’ll die out here, but hopefully not soon,” he said.

There’s still too much to do, though, for Stoneking to even think about taking it easy, much less bid a final farewell to his trees.

Never a farmer himself, Stoneking worked 20 years at Rath Packing Co., which later was to become IBP and now is Tyson Foods, then another 20 years at Grain Processing Corp. in Muscatine. In retirement, he now gets to enjoy the work of 40 years.

But it is an active enjoyment. Purposeful plantings and ongoing care are no recipe for kicking back, relaxing and watching the seasons go by.

“They’re actually more work than crops,” he said.

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