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Mareks continue conservation legacy in Washington County

Article cover photo
Larry, Tim and Brad Marek were recognized for their conservation efforts with the Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award at the Iowa State Fair last week. (Photo: Bethany Baratta/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Bethany Baratta, ISA senior writer

The Marek family knows that not every acre they farm in Washington County is suitable for crops. Some acres are better suited for conservation practices to protect the more productive acres.

“The last little piece isn’t usually very good dirt; we don’t need to farm every inch,” said Tim Marek. He, along with his brother Brad, and parents Larry and Jan, operate Marek Land and Livestock. They were recognized for their conservation efforts with the Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award at the Iowa State Fair last week.

Former Iowa Soybean Association District 6 Director Ed Ulch nominated the family for the award.

The Mareks, who live near Riverside, were one of 53 farm families honored with the award. It was created in 2012 by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship to recognize farm families who take voluntary actions to improve and protect the environment and the state’s natural resources.

A century of conservation

The Marek family’s concentration on conservation is largely guided in their work toward preserving the family’s century farm. The farm started in 1896, with each generation working to make it better for the next generation, Larry said.

“We’ve always tried to take care of the soil. As these things came forward—pollinator needs and so on—we’ve tried to help,” Larry said.

He’s had a long history in agriculture and conservation. He’s been a soil commissioner and served on a Farm Service Agency (FSA) committee. Larry was also an Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) district director and was appointed to the United Soybean Board as a farmer director.

About 20 percent of the family’s land is dedicated to pasture and hay ground, including CRP acres.

They utilize filter strips to intercept any nutrients before entering the water. In addition, the strips reduce soil erosion and provide habitat for quail. They have also planted areas of pollinator habitat for bees and butterflies.

In addition to no-till and conservation tillage practices, the Mareks also use grid sampling to determine how much fertilizer application is necessary. They use GPS for precise herbicide application.

Perhaps the largest effort among the three farmers is the focus on cover crops.

“Topsoil isn’t made overnight by any means,” Tim said. “Cover crops are a win-win. We have neighbors who are so passionate about it because of soil health and what it’s doing to build organic matter underground.”

They’ve seen the benefits of rye as a cover crop both underground and above ground. Below the surface, the deep rye roots help sequester nutrients and reduce compaction.

Above the ground, rye provides feed for the cattle herd.

“It changes the cow-calf business for me in southeast Iowa,” Tim said. “I’m able to let the pairs graze on Dad’s fields all winter. I’m actually more excited about using that ground when he’s not using it.”

The pollinator habitat on the Marek farm attracts bees and butterflies. (Photo: Bethany Baratta/Iowa Soybean Association)

Leaving a legacy

Brad and Tim also live on their own century farms. They understand the important role–and obligation—they have to preserve their farms for their children, the sixth generation. “Multiple generations have taken care of the ground and had some vision to keep it in shape for future generations,” Tim said. “It’s up to us to continue that legacy.”

Tim is a full-time farmer, raising cattle and show pigs. He also judges livestock shows and has been involved with Farm Bureau and various 4-H and FFA programs and events.

“It’s an honor to be recognized for what we’ve done to protect and preserve our resources,” Brad said. “We’ve really tried hard to make a living off of it while not depleting it.”

Off of his crop and cattle farm, Brad works as a loan officer for Farm Credit Services of America. He’s also served on the Washington County Iowa State Extension and Outreach council.

Purchasing additional farmland could be in the family’s future, but they say they’re in no rush to expand, especially given lower crop prices.

“For now, we’re going to continue to get better, not bigger,” Larry said.

Contact Bethany Baratta at

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