It’s becoming common to spot cover crops, no-till, wetlands and a range of other conservation practices when you travel around Iowa these days. Your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you.

There’s mounting evidence, from a wide range of sources, that more Iowa farmers are integrating conservation practices into their routines to reduce soil loss and improve water quality. Those efforts are gaining momentum. 

That’s clear in a recent report by the Iowa Nutrient Research and Education Council (INREC), which used local ag retail data to measure and demonstrate environmental progress. Conservation progress also clearly shows in a high-tech survey of conservation structures by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Another data set, from the latest U.S. Census of Agriculture, shows Iowans continue to be active participants in three key federal conservation plans: the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

Data shows that Iowa farmers and landowners had enrolled 12% of their agricultural land in one of those three programs. That compares very favorably with other Corn Belt states and is pretty good for a state that leads in corn production and typically is near the top in soybeans.

Those of us who observe Iowa agriculture closely have seen significant gains in attitudes and in practices as farmers take on the challenge of improving water quality and reducing soil loss. Now we are starting to get the hard data to back that up.