Alum recognized as leader of Iowa agriculture

July 16, 2018

Sarah Carlson (MS sustainable ag and crop production and physiology) was recognized as a leader in Iowa agriculture back in March. Sarah is the strategic initiatives director for Practical Farmers and was one of four recipients of the 2018 Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Leader Awards.

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig presented Sarah with the Leadership in Conservation Award during an awards ceremony and dinner on March 6, with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in attendance. The award winners were recognized for their leadership, innovation and commitment to agriculture in Iowa.

“Sarah has led the charge for cover crops for the last 10 years in the Midwest, and we’re lucky to have her working for Iowa farmers,” says Mark Peterson, who raises corn, soybeans, cover crops and small grains in southwest Iowa and also serves as PFI board president. “We want to be leaders in protecting and improving our soil, here in Iowa, and Sarah is helping us get there.”

For the past several years, Sarah’s work with Practical Farmers has focused on helping farmers connect with their peers to share practical advice and farming knowledge about cover crops and small grains.

Her efforts have helped thousands of farmers across Iowa and the Midwest find inspiration and answers to questions about ways they can diversify their operations and keep their soil covered.

Sarah is also building partnerships between Practical Farmers of Iowa and segments of the food and beverage supply chain as part of strategic efforts to grow markets and support research for small grains and cover crops in the region. Most recently, she co-chaired the Conservation Initiative’s Cover Crop Working Group and led the creation of a cover crop discount through the crop insurance program.

“I’m very honored by this award, but the credit really goes to the farmers who have changed their farming systems to make cover crops work – and then shared both the good and the bad with their neighbors,” Sarah says.

“That kind of open exchange saves us all time and money as we work to make cover crops and small grains a lasting addition to our corn and soybean landscape. It also positions Iowa well to make changes as climate change and the supply chain put ever more pressure on agriculture.”

Sarah grew up on a farm near DeKalb, Illinois, in the north-central part of the state. As a young person, she was troubled by the loss of her grandparents’ farrow-to-finish hog operation and the consolidation of her high school.

After attending Augustana College, she moved to Iowa to attend Iowa State University, where she earned a master’s degree in agronomy. While at ISU, Sarah conducted on-farm research with Practical Farmers of Iowa and was inspired by PFI co-founder Dick Thompson’s words: “Once the cattle leave the farm, so do the people.”

Those words resonated with Sarah, as did PFI’s philosophy of farmer-led research and the power of grassroots knowledge. Since joining the Practical Farmers staff in 2007, Sarah has earned a reputation as a no-nonsense agronomist driven by a passion to revive rural communities one farmer at a time.

“My vision,” Sarah says, “is to fill rural church pews and school buses by helping farmers diversify their operations, and protect and improve their soil.”

Original news release by the Practical Farmers of Iowa.