SOIL 2021 – Our Soils: Our Future

SOIL 2021 brought together farmers, landowners, conservationists, local officials and others interested in the future of Iowa’s land and water for a full day of presentations and conversations. The key theme of the day was Our Soils: Our Future and many speakers focused on the unique role soil conservation, soil health, and water management play in creating productive farms. Iowa’s soil and water conservation districts have played a historic role and several speakers discussed how the districts can be re-energized to address current challenges. There is growing recognition of the impact climate change has on agriculture and discussion on how farmers can help lead the efforts to address climate issues was also a focus. Speakers shared thoughts on the potential role of legal tools such as conservation easements, to promote conservation on working lands, and the final panel examined new opportunities and challenges for farmers, landowners and conservationists.

Organized and Hosted by the Drake University Agricultural Law Center, with financial support from the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Cultivating Compassion: the Dr. Richard Deming Foundation, the Conservation Districts of Iowa, Iowa Interfaith Power & Light and Peoples Company; with support from the Dallas County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Raccoon Watershed Association, and the Panora Conservation Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America

Video from the conference, as well as numerous presentations, will be linked to the agenda below as available. Please continue to check the page for additional links and information.

SOIL 2021: Our Soils Our Future

8:00 – 8:30 – Registration and Breakfast, sponsored by Cultivating Compassion: the Dr. Richard Deming Foundation

8:30 – 8:35 – Welcome Remarks – Prof. Jennifer Zwagerman, director, Agricultural Law Center

8:35 – 8:50 – Conference Overview – Prof. Neil Hamilton, emeritus director, conference organizer, and Dallas County Soil and Water Conservation District commissioner

8:50 – 9:25 – Energizing Iowa’s Soil and Water Conservation Districts

  • Neil Shaffer, Howard County SWCD Watershed Project Coordinator – Expanding Soil and Water Conservation at the County Level
  • John Norwood, Polk County SWCD Commissioner – Systems Thinking and the Power of One:  Saturated Buffers in Polk County

9:25 – 10:10 – Farmers Leading on Climate Change Solutions

  • Matt Russell, executive director, Iowa Interfaith Power & Light [Marion County] – The Role of Iowa Farmers in the National Climate Action Scene
  • Ray Gaesser, farmer and co-chair Iowa Smart Agriculture [Adams County] – Innovative On-farm Research to Promote Soil Health and Address Climate
  • Irene DeMaris, associate director, Iowa Interfaith Power & Light – Expanding the Reach of Farmer Led Climate Efforts

10:10 – 10:25 – networking break – sponsored by Iowa Interfaith Power & Light

10:25 – 11:15 Using Corporate Sustainability Funds to Support Better Farming

  • Joe Winchell, head conservation agronomist, AgOutcomes, a subsidiary of the Iowa Soybean Association – Farmer Driven Eco-system Service Payments
  • Lydia English – Strategic Initiatives Coordinator, Practical Farmers of Iowa [Story County] – Partnering with Industry to Expand Cover Crops in Iowa
  • Prof. Jennifer Zwagerman, director, Agricultural Law Center – National Status of Corporate Support for Agricultural Climate Solutions

11:15 – 12:00 – Candid Perspectives on Iowa’s Water Quality: Where are We Today and Where are We Headed

  • Chris Jones, Research Engineer, IIHR, University of Iowa [Johnson County]- Understanding the Science and Data to Know the Truth About Iowa’s Water
  • Mary Skopec, Executive Director, Iowa Lakeside Laboratory [Dickinson County] – Citizen Science and Iowa’s Future – Developing a Holistic Vision

12:00 – 1:10 Lunch, sponsored by Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, welcome by Dr. Richard Deming – Speakers: Pat Boddy, Update on Central Iowa Water Trails [ICON] and Christine Curry, Visualizing Iowa’s Future: Soul, Soil, and Spark

1:10 – 1:50 Manage Water on the Land and Soil Health (and Carbon) Will Follow –

  • Jerry Hatfield, retired director, USD ARS– National Laboratory for Agriculture and Environment, Ames – How Better Water Management Promotes Soil Health  
  • Liz Garst, Garst Farms and Whiterock Conservancy [Guthrie County] – True Life Experiences Selling Land Subject to a Soil Health Easement

1:50 – 2:45 Iowa Land: New Opportunities for Conserving Private Land

  • Erin Van Waus, conservation easement director [Warren County], and
  • Emily Martin, conservation programs coordinator [Marion County], Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation –Private Land Protection in a Changing Climate
  • Seth Watkins, Pinhook Farm [Page County] – How Conservation Easements Protect Land and Increase Profitability and Sustainability
  • Mark Rasmussen, former director ISU Leopold Center – Where Did Iowa’s Cattle Go and How Do We Keep Our Grasslands?

2:45 – 3:30 Pulling Opportunities Together: Ideas Iowans Need to Consider

  • Aaron Heley Lehman, president, Iowa Farmers Union [Polk County] – How Iowa Farmers Can Revitalize the Rural Economy and Restore Iowa’s Land
  • Mary Beth Stevenson, Watersheds & Source Water Coordinator, Cedar Rapids [Linn County] – How Supporting Conservation on Upstream Farms Can Protect Water Quality and Reduce Flooding
  • Robert Hartwig, Legal Counsel, Iowa Bankers Association – How Do Bankers See the Future of Iowa’s Land and Water?

3:30 – 3:45 Afternoon Break, sponsored by the Conservation Districts of Iowa

3:45 – 4:15 Questions and Discussion with Speakers

4:15 – 4:30 Wrap-Up and Concluding Thoughts – Prof. Neil Hamilton – How To Secure Iowa’s Soil and Water Future: Regulations are Inevitable

Conference will be followed by an Evening “Spark” Banquet at the Izaak Walton League of Des Moines, starting at 5:00 – Cocktail Reception, Dinner, and Program, featuring Art Cullen, Storm Lake newsman and reports on the health of the Raccoon River.  Tickets $50 per person– proceeds benefit river protection in Iowa.  See the full banquet invitation here. For tickets and information contact: or