Forty years ago, Tim Palmer began farming with his dad and has continued the family operation growing corn, soybeans, oats, and hay on his farm near Truro, Iowa, in addition to raising beef cattle to market. Palmer, a second-generation farmer, along with his wife Shelly and their sons Geoff and Greg, utilize conservation practices extensively to improve water quality and soil health. Palmer’s farm includes terraces, waterways, filter strips, and ponds, and he utilizes rotational grazing with his cattle herd.
“Dad had always been an active supporter of conservation, starting in the 1960s when he purchased the farm,” says Palmer. “Mostly with adding ponds, managing livestock water, and using terraces to control runoff. After the Conservation Security Program was established in 2002, I became more interested in conservation and bought a tilling plow to get ready for terraces. I wanted to know more about the programs, what was available, and why certain practices worked better in some places, but not in others.”
Elected as president of the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) in 2019 and having served on the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District’s board since 2003, Palmer has held leadership positions at NACD for more than a decade. According to Palmer, conservation programs that are developed around local needs allow farmers to determine the program that best fits their operation. Even the national programs are built to be implemented at the local level versus a broad, national government mandate.
In addition to his national-level work, Palmer works with local conservation districts and speaks highly of his good friend and fellow producer, Larry Beeler, who was an NACD officer in the early 2000s. “Larry was instrumental in the development and adoption of conservation practices in our area. He would work with landowners one-on-one and plan field days to share information and start conversations among producer groups. It worked well, and his influence helped encourage me to advance conservation efforts on our farm, in addition to volunteering for leadership positions within the industry.”
Palmer is driven by a goal to make the land better – to enhance his own part of the landscape – and make it better for future generations. Palmer emphasizes how history tells a story of the land and it is the responsibility of landowners and managers to understand where they are in that story and how they can improve the land.
“You don’t realize until you’re involved in conservation what caused unusual or odd areas on the land. What caused this ditch to be here? Why do the cattle follow this particular path?” Palmer said. “If you look at pictures from the 1930s, the pastures were smaller, and producers had to drive up the hill a certain way. The cows followed and hollowed out trails in various areas. Those ruts remain. People, the farmers, have been managing rough or difficult tracts of land the best way they could at the time. Soil was lost and flowed downstream, which helped build the Mississippi Delta.”
Having been involved with ESMC for a few years as a Steering Committee member and on the Board of Directors, Palmer sees ESMC’s efforts complementing NACD’s work to improve soil health and control water quality, the foundation of conservation. He also serves as a co-chair of the newly established ESMC Producer Circle, a group of farmer and rancher advisors providing input and feedback on the development of the ESMC program.
“ESMC will help move the needle in conservation practice adoption and drive improvements in soil health. The Producer Circle was established to ensure farmers and ranchers could engage in the conversation and have a voice in the development of the pilots and protocols ESMC is testing the next few years,” says Palmer. “I think there is a way for everyone [farmers and ranchers] to be involved. ESMC’s stacked credits approach enables producers to sell carbon credits, water credits, and eventually, others. Producers are providing a service to the world by contributing to climate mitigation efforts, and this is one way for them to gain additional benefit by doing so.”