An 80-foot strip of brightly colored pollinator habitat on Ken Fawcett and his nephew, Kent Stuart’s, farm, along with saturated buffers and cover crops, are just a few of a long list of reasons why these long-time Farm Bureau families were chosen as the prestigious 2021 Iowa Conservation Farmers of the Year. The Fawcett/Stuart farm duo reside just outside of West Branch and have dedicated more than 50 years to continuous conservation efforts on their farm to improve their environmental footprint while sharing their experiences with their farming peers.  

Now in its 69th year, the prestigious Iowa Conservation Farmer of the Year Award is sponsored by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS).  As winners of the statewide conservation award, Fawcett Farms received the free use of a John Deere 6E Series utility tractor for up to 12 months of 200 hours. The tractor award is sponsored by Van Wall Equipment of Perry and John Deere. 

Fawcett Farms was an early adopter of no-till in the 1970s and have been eager to embrace technology and incorporate new practices on their farm.  They built a pond to prevent erosion next to a natural freshwater spring in the 1980s, followed by the installation of a saturated buffer and thousands of tree plantings, and more recently, planting more acres of cover crops, all efforts that successfully protect the water quality in the creeks snaking through the farm.  The new addition of the pollinator habitat improves soil health and water quality on the farm, while keeping the soil in place.

Fawcett Farms regularly hosts conservation field days and farm tours to provide their guests a firsthand look at conservation practices in place, so other farmers can learn from their experiences and take that knowledge back to their farms and consumers can better understand the farmer-led conservation efforts in the state.    

 “As farmers, we know that everyone has a role to play in protecting our soil and water quality, and that’s why leading by example and sharing information to best accomplish our goals is so important,” said IFBF President Craig Hill.   “Our role as farmers is more than just growing food; we must all work towards leaving the land and water better for the next generation, and Ken and Kent continue to serve as role models by continuously implementing more conservation practices on their farm and sharing their experiences with other farmers to incorporate on their farms.”    

Fawcett, a fourth-generation farmer, traces his conservation ethic back to the early days of his farming career when most farmers still relied heavily on tillage to manage weeds. He knows the practices are working from data generated from on-farm testing and monitoring, but there are also visual signs, like the return of wildlife, decreased erosion and clearer water.  

Fawcett says technology has transformed farming and enabled many new conservation practices over the past 40 years, and he sees even more changes to come in the years ahead.   “I think technology can help diversify agriculture, not just field by field but acre by acre,” Fawcett said. “By knowing what each acre is doing, we can tailor the practices to the soil better. We can plant crops in the most productive areas, and we can look for the best locations to use some of the conservation programs that are most beneficial.”

Fawcett and Stuart know conservation progress is a long-term goal and their work is never done, so they remain focused on their continuous improvement.   While harvesting this year’s crop, the pair will evaluate their farm and look for more opportunities to participate in additional conservation programs and incorporate more successful practices moving forward.  

“I want to thank Ken and Kent for being leaders in environmental stewardship. This family farm has made long-term investments to improve the health of the soil, prevent soil erosion and enhance water quality in our rivers, lakes and streams,” said Mike Naig, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture.  “They’ve also helped foster a culture of conservation in their community by regularly hosting field days and groups on their farm to help their neighbors learn about conservation practices. I am grateful for their leadership on and off the farm and their ongoing commitment to Iowa agriculture.” 

In addition to Fawcett and Stuart winning the statewide award, regional winners from 2021 are: Nathan Ronsiek of Sioux County; Brent Larson of Webster County; Merlin Balik of Howard County; Tom and Maren Beard of Winneshiek County; Mark Assman of Shelby County; Randy Gamble of Madison County; and Harold and Delores Sandquist of Jefferson County.