Linn County farmer Jim O’Connell approaches farming and conservation with the same no nonsense attitude as he does coaching high school football — if you have a job to do, just do it. 

The peak time demands for both jobs happens in the fall. O’Connell acknowledges that his duties as a high school football coach pull him away from his farm for at least 3 hours every day during harvest, causing some angst on pristine fall afternoons due to thoughts he should in a farm field combining corn or soybeans instead of on a football field coach high schoolers.

But he refuses to use that as an excuse to cut corners in either job, particularly when it comes to conservation on his farm.

If he has to stay up all night to plant cover crops on every acre of his farm every year, that’s what he does. There are a lot of reasons other farmers might not want to plant cover crops, but lack of time shouldn’t be one of them, O’Connell says.

The efforts of farmers like O’Connell are an example of the extraordinary measures that farmers are taking to implement water quality and soil health improvement practices as part of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. Cover crop use in the state has grown from around 10,000 acres in 2009 to nearly 3 million acres today, and Iowa’s farmers lead the nation in the adoption of bioreactors and saturated buffers, which reduce nitrates in tile water by an average of 43% to 50%.

There’s been some noise in the media lately, mostly from the usual naysayers, saying that the Nutrient Reduction Strategy isn’t working. I’d encourage them to spend a day with farmers like O’Connell to see the real story.