A perk of my job is traveling around to interview farmers all over Iowa committed to reducing soil loss, improving water quality and preserving the land for future generations. I’m always impressed with their dedication and foresight. 

Also impressive is their generosity with the knowledge and insights they’ve gained along the way. They’ve seen the environmental and economic benefits of adopting conservation practices and are eager to help other farmers also make progress. 

That was certainly the case last week when I visited with Mark Jackson of Mahaska County, the 2020 Iowa Conservation Farmer of Year. The annual award is co-sponsored by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

Jackson says he learned a lot about cover crops and other conservation practices talking with other farmers, doing re­search and trying things out on his own farm. “The learning curve is different for everyone, but a lot of times you can eliminate mistakes by talking to others,” he says.

Over the years, he’s worked to spread those insights by speaking at field days, serving on panel discussions and hosting groups on his farm and using other outlets to discuss conservation practices.

Farmer-to-farmer learning, Jackson believes, is a vital part of continuing and building on to the significant gains that Iowa farmers have made as they take on the challenge of improving water quality and reducing soil loss. “We all want to make things better,” he said.