Multidisciplinary Think-Tank to Tackle Conservation and Environmental Challenges through Research, Collaboration, and Expansive Systems-level Approaches

The recently established Iowa State University Extension and Outreach group, the Conservation Learning Group or CLG, is a think tank dedicated to addressing conservation and environmental challenges. The group, formed in July 2018, is a collaboration of researchers, educators and advocates working to better understand land use and production system issues and come up with creative solutions to increase the sustainability of agricultural and natural systems for generations to come.

Representatives from bioengineering, social science, agronomy, crop science, soil science, wildlife management, water resource management and conservation are on the CLG team. Specialists from other areas of study will also be incorporated.

The group is working to develop and deliver training for conservation professionals and educators, create engaging outreach to farmers, ag advisors, landowners, youth and communities, conduct multidisciplinary integrated research, and design and facilitate creative evaluation and feedback loops. Potential topics for training and research include manure management, cover crops, pollinators, conservation planning, wetlands, monarchs, pollinators and more.

“The open format of CLG will facilitate sharing of experiences, viewpoints, ideas, successes and failures to engender creative problem-solving and innovative thinking as we all contribute to solving immediate problems facing Iowa,” said Jacqueline Comito, program director of Iowa Learning Farms and leadership team member with CLG. “I am eager to see how this group grows and what we are able to accomplish.”

The CLG umbrella includes three highly successful programs, Iowa Learning Farms, Conservation Learning Labs, and Water Rocks!, and will incorporate inputs and knowledge from a broader range of research studies and programs spanning multiple topics. CLG will work with other projects and organizations to help create better awareness of what is being learned in each project and make results more accessible to general audiences.

The group has received funding from a Natural Resources Conservation Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (NRCS) partnership grant and a research grant through North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program and is partnering with the University of Wisconsin in the development of conservation planning training.

Team members include Jacqueline Comito, Anthropologist and Program Director, Iowa Learning Farms; Matthew Helmers, Professor of Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering; Mark Licht, Assistant Professor, Department of Agronomy and Extension Cropping Systems Specialist; Jamie Benning, Extension Water Quality Program Manager; Adam Janke, Assistant Professor, Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management; Emily Heaton, Assistant Professor, Department of Agronomy; Ann Staudt, Assistant Program Manager, Iowa Learning Farms; and Elizabeth Juchems, Conservation Outreach Specialist, Iowa Learning Farms.

Elizabeth Juchems, Iowa State University Extension

Elizabeth Juchems is the conservation outreach specialist Iowa Learning Farms and Water Rocks! When not out at an outreach event or collecting field research data, she manages the Iowa Learning Farms’ cover crop research projects, communicates with ILF farmer partners, and organizes field days, workshops, and Water Rocks! school visits. Originally from a farm in northeast Iowa (Butler County), Juchems earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural business-economics from Iowa State University and a master’s degree in agricultural economics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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