The Nature Conservancy Helps Farmers Balance Productivity and Environmental Stewardship

Clean Water in Iowa Starts Here tour highlights some of Iowa’s agricultural conservation leaders and the benefits of the 4R Plus program

DES MOINES, Iowa (July 21, 2021) – The Clean Water in Iowa Starts Here tour visited Kelly Nieuwenhuis’ farm in O’Brien County to showcase soil health and water quality practices at work. The stop, hosted by The Nature Conservancy, featured agricultural conservation work happening in the state including Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy and sustainable grazing projects. It also helped raise awareness about the 4R Plus Program, an industry-supported effort that aims to connect farmers with practices that help preserve Iowa’s land and water resources.

The Nature Conservancy, and a coalition of ag and conservation organizations that support the 4R Plus Program, promote using precision nutrient applications in conjunction with in-field and edge-of-field conservation practices to improve productivity on Iowa’s farms while protecting natural resources. The program recently launched the “On the Plus Side” social media campaign to showcase Iowa farmers who have seen first-hand the benefits of investing in soil health and water quality practices. These, and other agricultural conservation leaders, are encouraging other Iowa farmers to get involved.

“All farmers and landowners should be investing in conservation practices to improve their soil health and our water quality. The 4R Plus program provides good guidelines that can help farmers balance their productivity, profitability and environmental stewardship,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. “I’m excited to see some of Iowa’s farm environmental leaders being highlighted through the ‘On the Plus Side’ campaign. These families are great examples of how implementing science-based conservation practices on the land yields direct results to water quality and soil health in our state and downstream.”

Farmers across Iowa have experienced the “Plus Side” of weatherproofing farms, protecting their valuable soil, improving water quality and preserving productivity for future generations. According to the 2020 Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll, 58 percent agreed they should take additional steps to protect their land from extreme weather events. Nieuwenhuis has been a leader in implementing the recommended methods on his operation.

Nieuwenhuis switched to one-pass vertical tillage in 2016 after a long history in a full tillage program. His plus side is impressive: increased organic matter, reduced fertilizer applications, reduced pesticide use, improved water quality, drastically reduced fuel and equipment costs from fewer passes, good earthworm populations and good yields.

“Changing tillage systems has increased the soil’s organic matter, which benefits the crops and keeps the soil from blowing away,” explains Nieuwenhuis. “I can see a difference in the fields we’ve been operating longer. My goal is to constantly grow organic matter, eliminate nutrient loss and improve water quality.”

For additional information on how to implement environmentally-conscious farming practices, contact Paige at or visit

About The Nature Conservancy in Iowa

Since 1963 The Nature Conservancy in Iowa has worked to preserve our state’s natural landscapes through the advancement of land and water conservation. We have project managers across the state who know and work within their own communities to protect and conserve private lands in urban and rural areas and work with agricultural producers and companies on best management practices. We value a scientific, systematic approach to conservation that incorporates long-term strategic planning. To learn more about The Nature Conservancy in Iowa, visit

About the Clean Water in Iowa Starts Here Campaign

The campaign, created by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Soybean Association and Newsradio 1040 WHO aims to raise awareness about the conservation work underway all across Iowa. It also highlights opportunities for both rural and urban residents to use soil health and water quality best practices and play an active role in conservation projects happening in their communities.

During the Clean Water in Iowa Starts Here campaign, The Big Show will visit locations throughout the state showcasing the people and practices that are having a positive and measurable impact on water quality. The conversations with farmers, landowners, agribusinesses and community leaders will be broadcast on Wednesdays during The Big Show airing from 11 a.m.–1 p.m. on WHO and 11:30 a.m.–1 p.m. on WMT.

The Clean Water in Iowa Starts Here campaign is a collaborative effort between a dozen public and private partners, including Agri-Drain, Hagie Manufacturing, Hands on Excavating, Heartland Co-op, Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Montag Manufacturing, Practical Farmers of Iowa, The Nature Conservancy and TruTerra.

The Clean Water in Iowa Starts Here campaign began in August 2020 and highlighted 16 conservation projects throughout the harvest season. For more information about the campaign, upcoming stops, and rural and urban soil health and water quality practices, visit For assistance implementing conservation practices or to get involved in a community-based project, visit a nearby USDA Service Center or Soil and Water Conservation District office.


About the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship

Led by Secretary Mike Naig, the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship serves the rural and urban residents that call Iowa home. Through its 14 diverse bureaus, the Department ensures animal health, food safety and consumer protection. It also promotes conservation efforts to preserve our land and enhance water quality for the next generation. Learn more at

Media Contact:
Don McDowell
Communications Director