Iowa farmers have been taking on the challenge of reducing soil loss and improving Iowa water quality for decades. A recent report showed that the state’s farmers — with their own money and with government cost share — have quietly invested in several key conservation practices to the tune of $6.2 billion in today’s dollars.

It’s a big number. But most of the work has gone unnoticed by the general public.

A couple of examples last week at the Iowa State Fair showed that might be changing.

The first was Andrew Wheeler, the acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, extolling Iowa’s water quality efforts while speaking to reporters. “We know that Iowa is at the forefront of this important effort and can be a model for other states,” the EPA leader said.

The other example was Steve Lee, a Polk County Farm Bureau member. He and other farmers worked with the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation to place signs on his land near a popular central Iowa bike trail. The signs highlight the conservation work on the farms near the trail.

Aaron Ezzio, who works at Heartland Co-op near the trail, noticed the signs and nominated Lee for an Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award. Lee, along with his daughter, Shawna, and son, Ryan, accepted the award last week during a ceremony at the Iowa State Fair.

“It’s great to be recognized for the work we’re doing for a long time now,” Lee said after receiving the award.

It’s a lot like that for all of Iowa agriculture. Conservation work has been happening for decades and has accelerated with the adoption of the state’s water quality initiative, the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, five years ago.

It’s taken time, but maybe now the work is starting to get noticed.