Mark Peterson

President, Board of Directors

Mark Peterson is Practical Farmers of Iowa’s Board President. Mark and his wife Melanie farm about 500 acres near Stanton, Iowa, where they’ve been experimenting for several years with different methods to get cover crops to work with their farm. They raise corn, soybeans and small grains using cover crops and no-till practices.

Blog posts

The following is my testimony in favor of funding the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at a public hearing this morning on Iowa’s 2018 budget. The budget proposal cuts funding to the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and would force the organization to close its doors after 30 years. 

Providing testimony at public hearing Monday, April 17

Providing testimony at public hearing Monday, April 17

Good Morning,

My wife Melanie and I farm in southwest Iowa close to Stanton. Currently, I serve as a supervisor in Montgomery County and also I am the board president for Practical Farmers of Iowa. Practical Farmers was founded in 1985 in the middle of the farm crisis. We are proud to say that we are a “big tent” organization in that our members come from all political persuasions. The glue that binds our organization together is the sharing of on farm research by our members. By working together for a common goal we are able to improve our farms. We have in the past stayed out of politics. Today for what I believe is the first time that changes. As a conservative republican I am disappointed with what I hear happening. We ask you to continue funding the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

My understanding is that the funding for the Leopold Center would be diverted to strictly nutrient research. While nutrient reduction is important, it is not the total answer to improve water quality. On our farm, we are in our third year of testing for nitrates. With what we have learned from Practical Farmers and the Leopold Center only once has one of our sites been over the 10 ppm nitrate standard. While proper fertilizer placement, timing and amount are part of equation so are expanded crop rotation strategies and the use of cover crops.

Here are thoughts from some of our members:

“The Leopold Center has helped fund on-farm research at Practical Farmers

of Iowa for three decades, Through that research, I have learned and adopted practices that I didn’t know I could use on my farm. The Leopold Center’s support is extremely important to farm organizations like PFI and to farmers like me who want to know how to make Iowa agriculture more sustainable.” -Vic Madsen, Audubon County farmer

“As a farmland owner I have seen first-hand how the Leopold Center has been the moral compass for the agriculture web of reciprocity, that of giving back more than it takes from its soil, water and the environment.  Through the research accomplished at the Leopold Center farmers have gleaned information for increased profitability for their crop-livestock enterprises.  In this cyclical timing of lower grain, oilseed and livestock prices farmers have and continue to look at organizations like the Leopold Center for well researched employable ideas for Iowa’s food, feed and livestock systems.” -Gail Hickenbottom, of Polk County. Gail also serves on the Leopold Center advisory board.

The Leopold Center was founded in tough ag economic times. Through their research and funding of everything from waterways to wineries, life in rural Iowa has improved both economically and also environmentally. We are in tough times again. The work of the Leopold Center is nowhere near done.

Please continue to fund the Leopold Center. It’s the right thing to do. Thank You.

Mark Peterson, with Anna Johnson (l) and Stephanie Enloe (r) from Center for Rural Affairs at the public hearing Monday

Mark Peterson, with Anna Johnson (l) and Stephanie Enloe (r) from Center for Rural Affairs at the public hearing Monday


Once again the crew and I were out in the Ranger last Thursday. What a glorious morning to be out! A little cooler than it has been with just a little breeze. When we would stop, quail and pheasants could be heard calling from various parts of the farm. This I attribute in part to the addition of small grains to our farm.

My oats are starting to turn so harvest will be coming. This trip, we were out collecting our bi-monthly water samples. I am proud to be in our second year of sampling in conjunction with the Iowa Soybean Association. All PFI members participating should be proud. Word has reached me that as a group, PFI member water samples are running on average at a much lower rate than the group as a whole. Personally, I’m seeing nitrate levels well below the EPA drinking water standard (10 ppm) from the water coming out of my oat crop and rye cover crop fields. Other Practical Farmers involved are also seeing success when it comes to water quality with cover crops and pastures. While I won’t go into specific numbers, Des Moines Water Works would be happy to have our water come through. To me once again this proves that the practices that we are using on our farms are working, and we need to keep up the good work.


The crew (pictured below) and I were out spraying weeds this morning. This was the first time the older two commandeered their spot in the Ranger, when we came in from spraying, my wife Melanie looked at us and asked: “Is being around that spray safe for the dogs?” Hmm, I see where I stand.

We have been out crop inspecting and spot spraying weeds at the same time. I got to thinking about one small change I made in my spot spraying last year that hopefully helps out one creature that needs the help. I’m sure most of you are ahead of me, but if you haven’t considered doing this you might. I took the weed out of milkweed last year. As I am spraying, I no longer consider milkweed a plant that needs to be terminated; instead I am leaving them for the monarch butterflies. Who doesn’t like seeing monarchs around? Whether you spray or hoe, please give consideration to leaving the milkweed plants alone. Maybe it has been a good year for them, but I am comfortable that we have more milkweed (or should we say milkflower?) on Bentgate Farm after leaving them alone last year.