A different kind of farming
Local prairie seed farm shares success
Dwight and Bev Rutter converted their farmland, known as the Prairie Flower, to a prairie seed farm almost 20 years ago. Since then the 640-acre farm northwest of Spencer has grown to hold more than 70 varieties of seed with seven ponds built to enhance the local ecosystems. The Rutters frequently host programs at their farm and Thursday morning they welcomed more than 40 guests from around the state for an event sponsored by Practical Farmers of Iowa.
"There is no real reason I started," Dwight Rutter said. "I just got tired of the corn and beans with the chemicals. You can't go to the bank and ask for money to do this. They would laugh you right out of the place because the risk is too great. Once the land was paid for, then the money I used to make farm payments, I could invest in doing this. Every year, we have tried to do more and more."
Dwight Rutter emphasized the commitment necessary to operate a prairie seed farm. When he experiments with a new variety of plant, it often takes four years before the variety will become viable. That experimentation has paid off, the Rutters' farm was one of the largest producers of dudley rush seeds in the United States four years ago.
"Last year when we were at Mike and Darla Eeten's farm, they said, 'You got to meet our neighbor Dwight,'" Practical Farmers of Iowa Horticulture Coordinator Liz Kolbe said. "I thought it was one of the coolest places I had ever been. He is making a living doing something really different in Iowa. There is a huge demand for prairie seed. He is meeting it in this area and doing a lot of work around several counties. We wanted to highlight that."
Though there is a demand for prairie seed, Dwight Rutter suggested his farm is one of few around Iowa.
"I think we might be the only prairie farm in northwest Iowa," Dwight Rutter said. "There might be five or six in the state. It is pretty rare and there are none that I know of that do the variety we do."
The Rutters' farm also offers local ecotype, native prairie and wetlands plants, and seeds as well as native cultivar seed, pasture and hay seed and lawn grass mixes. In addition, they provide tree planting, seeding, ecological consulting and planting, natural land management and landscaping services. The variety of products and services available through the Rutters' business is one of the reasons Practical Farmers of Iowa asked them to host a field day.
"Everyone comes looking for something different and we have such a diverse membership," Kolbe said. "We want people to learn whatever can help them on their own journey for their land and their farm. ... Just bringing people together to have a similar topic, even though it is coming from a lot of different angles, makes for pretty rich conversation and that is what the goal was."