Custom Planting Business Started with a Selfie: Mike Jackson - Oskaloosa, Iowa

Mike Jackson, a 6th generation farmer, based in Oskaloosa, Iowa, purchased a drill to plant cover crops in 2015 to try and conserve resources – but he had no idea how popular his methods would become within his community.    

“Three years ago, we flew on 300 acres of cover crops. We had high winds and it came down for us beautifully, but the downside is it went on the neighbors, too. That’s when I told myself that if I pay for it, I want it on my farm,” Jackson said. “After that we went out and bought a drill and said ‘Hey, let’s give this a try.’”

Shortly after Jackson drilled nearly 600 acres of rye on his own property, he remembers pausing to take a selfie of himself with the drill. Shortly after posting it to Facebook, a neighbor called him and asked he would be interested in drilling their property.

“It was a totally unexpected thing,” Jackson said. “I was just goofing off and taking photos out in the field and having fun with it. I didn’t think I would get a job out of it.”

 Jackson decided to post another photo as he was drilling his neighbor’s property – and as luck would have it, it caught someone else’s attention. And before he knew it, Jackson had another field to drill, and the requests haven’t stopped since then.

“It was the craziest thing, but I guess you never know with having social media at our fingertips,” Jackson said.

Jackson continues to do custom planting for farmers in his area and continues to get more requests from local farmers. This year alone, he has done custom planting for 12 different operations.

“This snowballed into a better overall deal for the rye, given the commodity prices of what they are right now.”

He added that the side jobs have provided a cushion to the unpredictable prices.

“It’s been a very nice compliment to the low commodity prices,” Jackson said.

Jackson and his wife, Mary Beth, have three children and live on their family’s 125-year-old farm.

Mike graduated from Muscatine Community College with a degree in Feed and Fertilizer Management. After graduation, Mike put his degree to work. He built his first 1,200 head SEW (segregated early wean) swine building and began farming with his father and his uncle.

Today, Mike farms with his wife, father and uncle, raising corn, soybeans and they run 3 custom-fed swine buildings. The swine operation, along with cover crops, have paved the way to an ideal soil health system, Jackson said.

“The combination of the hog manure and cover crops has really saved us,” Jackson said.

Jackson said he was initially attracted to the idea of cover crops for yield bump, but soon learned that yields and soil health go hand-in-hand. The Jacksons started using cover crops about three years ago, and he’s starting to see the results for himself. But that doesn’t mean it’s been smooth sailing since the beginning, even with the addition of the drilling.

“Getting the rate dialed in with the drill was tricky, because you don’t want to be throwing seed out there,” Jackson said. “There’s no cash return on cover crops the first couple of years and that’s something you have to remind yourself. It’s kind of like a savings account, you have to put into it before you get anything out of it.”

When it comes to advising other farmers who are interested in custom planting or in cover crops in general – Jackson said the biggest thing he’s learned is to start simple, and to have patience with the process, because the end results are usually always worth it.

“I don’t think cover crops are a fad, they’re here to stay,” Jackson said. “Seeing what this has done and seeing the end results, I have to say that’s pretty incredible.”


Will Myers