Taking on the challenge of improving Iowa’s water quality and protecting soil has long been a priority for Mark Jackson, who farms outside of Oskaloosa with his son, Michael.  Jackson, an Iowa Farm Bureau member from Rose Hill, was named the 2020 Iowa Conservation Farmer of the Year for his wide-ranging conservation efforts and decades-long commitment to promoting conservation education and sharing his experiences and success stories with fellow farmers.

Now in its 68th 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).  The award was presented by Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig at the local Van Wall Equipment dealership in nearby Oskaloosa. 

“Mark uses a variety of practices to improve water quality and soil health. He is helping lead the way in our state’s conservation efforts,” said Secretary Naig. “With all that he does in conservation, and all of his work to pass that knowledge on to future generations, Mark is absolutely deserving of this award.” 

Jackson was an early adopter of many conservation practices first implementing soil and water stewardship projects when he and his wife, JoAnn, began farming near the South Skunk River.  “I have good, level fields, but I also have a lot of fields that are rolling,” Jackson said.  “So my mind’s eyes took me in the direction to try to conserve our soil.”

Shortly after graduating from Iowa State University (ISU) in 1974, Jackson broke with the common tradition of clean tilling fields and turning the soil over after harvest, and instead he adopted a no-till system that uses crop residue to stabilize the soil.  Jackson also began planting waterways and grass buffers to hold soil on his farm.  Next came terraces, sediment basins, contouring, cover crops and even more.  Today the Jackson farm has 40,000 feet of grassed waterways and 25,000 feet of terraces.  The Jacksons plant cover crops annually and implement several other projects to improve soil health and advance water quality.   

Jackson knows his conservation practices are yielding results and he sees those advancements firsthand following rain.  He notes observing more organic matter in his soil and improved water infiltration after it rains, both huge factors in controlling soil erosion and protecting water quality. 

Jackson was nominated for the award by his son, Michael, president-elect of the Mahaska County Farm Bureau.  In nominating his father, Michael wrote, “Leaving a family farming legacy of continuous improvement for the next generation to build on is the cornerstone of his farming protocols.” 

“As farmers, we know that leading by example is so important, because everyone has a role to play in protecting our soil and water quality,” says IFBF President Craig Hill.  “Our role as farmers is to do more than grow food; we must all work towards leaving the land and watershed better for the next generation.  We can even take things a step farther and share our conservation success stories with other farmers and encourage them to implement more conservation practices on their farm, something Mark has done so passionately throughout his farming career.”          

For earning the award, Jackson will receive the free use of a John Deere 6E Series utility tractor for up to 12 months or 200 hours.  The tractor prize is sponsored annually by Van Wall Equipment of Perry and John Deere.   

In addition to Jackson receiving the statewide award, regional winners from 2020 include: Sam and Danielle Bennett of Ida County; David Stevenson of Wright County; Jeff Rooney, Rooney Farms LLC, Cerro Gordo County; Michael Redmond, Jackson County; Russell Brandes, East Pottawattamie County; the Des Moines Area Community College Farm, Dallas County; and Roger Van Ersvelde, Poweshiek County.