Soil and Water Conservation Society: Looking Ahead

The following interviews have been edited for style and clarity. 


Conservation is a word that has sparked in popularity over the past few years.  Often paired within stories around climate change, pollution, and negative narratives, conservation is seen as a modern necessity to a modern problem.  While conservation is most definitely an important part of modern society, it has been around longer than most people think.  In agricultural states, conservation has been an essential tool in educating, modernizing, and sustaining farming industries.

One organization that has been pivotal in tackling the multi-tiered challenge of conservation is the Soil and Water Conservation Society (or SWCS).  The science-based natural resource conservation organization was established nearly 75 years ago and was initially developed as an organization to educate on simple agricultural practices like erosion control.  SWCS has taken its deep-rooted history in farmland conservation and combined it with communication and advocacy efforts to increase awareness of the latest conservation research.  With an ever-evolving climate, planet, and population, the organization is continually adapting to meet the new demands of each generation.

One way SWCS keeps on top of cutting-edge research and technologies is through their International Annual Conference which brings together agriculture, conservation, research, and scientific professionals together to share information and educate each other.

The SWCS International Annual Conference was recently hosted in Madison, Wisconsin and brought leaders from a variety of backgrounds to focus on the value of their connections. The conference centered on how collaboration and communication are vital in SWCS and in all areas of conservation.

SCWS President Jim Gulliford has been actively serving in the organization for over 30 years and has helped SWSC adapt to new challenges, while still remaining firm on the organization’s core values.  Gulliford notes the SWSC annual conferences as one of the primary strengths of the organization.

“We gather once a year in what we call our annual conference to share information: what we’ve learned over the past year, the results of projects, research, activities, all of those things because just to perform a project complete a project isn’t nearly as important as to interact and network with people who can find value from it.  The purpose of our conference is to add value to individuals’ work as they share it with others,” Gulliford said.

“We chose the title Conservation Connections [for this year’s conference] because it really gets to the heart of the challenge we face,” Gulliford said in response to the meaning of this year’s theme.  “None of our issues can be singularly solved, by the farmer, the scientist, the conservation professional in the field, the agribusiness, the university, the government agencies.  The connections are important, how they collaborate to take advantage of their specific skills.  All of these things have to come together.  The problems we face are complex.  The solutions are complex and requires multiple disciplines and individuals to make it happen.  We really wanted to make a point this year that it’s all about how these agencies and organizations connect to make a difference.”

 Although Gulliford has completed his run as Executive Director of the Soil and Water Conservation Society, new leaders are rising to the challenge to keep SWCS a key player in conservation.  Rest assured, even though Gulliford’s experience is unmatched, he’s not worried about the future of the organization.

The conference highlighted the future of SWCS and the next steps, including the announcement of Clare Lindahl as the new Chief Executive Officer.  Not only did the conference connect organizations, address important water issues, and showcase speakers presenting on a variety of conservation topics, but it also recognized members of SWSC who have shown exemplary commitment to the organization.  UW-Madison and UW-Extension’s very own Francisco Arriaga became an SWCS Fellow at this year’s conference.

“[The Fellow Award] recognizes the work and activities of members in [the Soil and Water Conservation Society] who fulfilled the mission of the society,” Arriaga said. “It goes beyond just having publications or things like that.  It also looks at all the activities that you’ve done: communication, international activities, [and] other things you’ve been involved with.”

Arriaga was recognized through his work over the past ten years.  After volunteering as vice president and eventually president of the SWCS Alabama chapter, he came to UW-Madison in 2012.  He currently serves as the Wisconsin chapter president.

“I’ve been a member [of the SWCS] since about 1996.  Being a state specialist with extension, a lot of activities I do are actually not only helping farmers but also educating all of our peers on issues related to soil and water conservation and water quality issues around the state and beyond,” Arriaga said.  “So I’ve been invited regionally to go and talk in different states in the Midwest.  I’ve also been invited to speak internationally, in Brazil for example. [The Fellow Award] is kind of a combination of all those activities and all that work.”

The 2017 SWCS Conference recognized the individual contributions of great leaders like Gulliford and Arriaga while emphasizing the bright future of SWCS and the power in its connections.

  1. I had no idea that there was a conservation society! This is really interesting that conservation has been practiced for so long in agricultural societies! I think that we could learn a lot from this society and from conservation practicing communities.

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