Started in 1926, the Iowa Master Farmer program is the longest-running farmer recognition in the country. Henry A. Wallace, editor of Wallaces Farmer from 1921 to 1933, initiated the award to call attention to Iowa farmers who not only demonstrate outstanding management in their farming operations, but also provide leadership in their local community, or in state and national organizations.
When Wallace instituted the award using the magazine’s motto — “Good Farming, Clear Thinking, Right Living” — made perfect sense as the basis for judging Master Farmer nominations. This still holds true today. Award nominees are held to a higher standard of ethics, requiring that Iowa Master Farmers not only skillfully manage their farms and market their products, but also invest time and resources in pursuit of a successful family and community life.
So, what is a Master Farmer? How are they selected? The judges consider operation and management of the farms, how nominees started farming, and how nominees have grown their operations, while demonstrating sound financial management.
Those who are good stewards of the land and give proper care to livestock receive high marks. An interest in farm organizations — not only in membership but also in leadership — is part of the makeup of a Master Farmer. Church activities aren’t required, but you’ll rarely find a Master Farmer who isn’t an active supporter of a church.
The award recognizes the farm family. Farming is a true partnership between husband and wife. All members of the family contribute to the success of the operation.
In the late 1950s Wallaces Farmer began occasionally presenting the Iowa Master Farmer Exceptional Service Award to individuals who are not farmers but have served a lifetime helping farmers. The award recognizes exceptional service to Iowa agriculture.
Prior to 1995, Wallaces Farmer and its parent company, Farm Progress Publications, financed the entire awards program. That year Farm Progress deemed that the Master Farmer Awards program become revenue neutral. H.B. Wallace and Jean Wallace Douglas, children of Henry A. Wallace, provided significant financial support for several years. During that time members organized what is now the Iowa Master Farmer Foundation. The Foundation's goals are to perpetuate the award program and provide scholarships to students studying journalism and production agriculture.
In 2015, staff realignments at Wallaces Farmer-Farm Progress created uncertainty over who would manage the day-to-day activities of the awards program. Members chose Wallace Centers of Iowa to step into that key management role.
Members have long provided significant financial support to the awards program. Farm Progress provides significant in-kind support and some financial contributions. In 2018, Growmark and the Iowa Soybean Association began providing additional financial support.