Habitat & Conservation  |  03/28/2024

Nelson Family Honored with Pheasants Forever 2023/24 Farmer of the Year Award


Iowa natives have created more than 500 acres of public access

Pheasants Forever’s 2023/2024 Farmer of the Year Award, sponsored by John Deere, is presented to Mark and Denise Nelson of Claremont, Iowa. The annual award recognizes the innovative use of precision ag technology and utilization of data to identify profitable solutions for agriculture and wildlife on working lands throughout America.

“The Driftless region in northeast Iowa is a landscape like no other, that includes both a rich agricultural history and vital natural resources to protect,” said Blake Charboneau, a Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever Farm Bill biologist in Iowa. “This is where we find the Nelson operation, which has managed and farmed hundreds of acres across multiple counties in the heart of Iowa’s Driftless region for generations.”

The Nelson’s recently enrolled two parcels of that land in the Iowa Habitat and Access Program (IHAP), opening over 500 acres to public hunting in a heavily agriculture-dominated area with minimal public hunting opportunity. Both farms are currently in a row crop rotation with habitat mixed in using the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) on unprofitable or unsuitable ground. The properties feature a combination of pollinator habitat, prairie restoration, filter strips, creeks, ponds, mature hardwood timber and early successional forest.

“The Nelson’s are a great example of operators who take care of their entire operation, and maximize all their acres, whether that be for production or conservation,” said Jason Tucker, the John Deere US sales manager in the western region.

These two farms are a prime example of what healthy wildlife populations look like when conservation-minded operators take full advantage of local resources. The Nelson’s fully support the Pheasants Forever mission and have worked alongside their local chapter, as well as with the organization’s seed program, to accomplish their habitat goals. Thanks to that hard work and collaboration, in the last year alone these two properties have given public land users the opportunity to harvest pheasants, turkeys, deer, squirrels, rabbits and waterfowl — all while seeing agriculture continue to thrive alongside wildlife.

“We really appreciate receiving this award,” Denise Nelson said. “The idea of mixing agriculture and conservation really opens your eyes to new opportunities. Things don’t always have to be in a straight line. You can implement some deviations and curves — yet still come up with a good product in the end.”

Thank you to national sponsor John Deere for supporting the conservation work of farmers and ranchers throughout the pheasant and quail range.