New State Conservationist Well-Known for Collaboration | IAWA

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack introduces Iowa’s new State Conservationist, Kurt Simon at the Des Moines Botanical Center in October. Others congratulating Simon are Iowa Sec. of Ag., Bill Northey, Interim State Conservationist Rick Ellsmore and Deputy Director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Bruce Trautman.

Kurt Simon, Iowa State Conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service

The Des Moines River flows through downtown, just a block away from Kurt Simon’s new office on the sixth floor of the Neal Smith Federal Building. Recently named Iowa state conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Simon leads the federal agency charged with helping Iowa farmers and landowners install conservation practices that improve the water quality in the Des Moines River and all of Iowa’s rivers and streams.

Simon’s NRCS career path has taken him across the United States, with stops in Ohio, West Virginia, California, South Carolina, Washington, D.C., Tennessee and Alabama, before his selection for the lead Iowa job this October. Simon, who grew up in Ohio and attended Ohio State, has family connections to the Hawkeye state. His grandfather lived and farmed in Hardin County in north central Iowa before moving the family east.

During his 31-year NRCS career, Simon has worked in field offices directly assisting farmers, supervised field staff and developed national partnerships as the NRCS liaison for the National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC). “We were working in some of the same areas, but not holding hands,” he said. “Within a matter of months, we developed new working agreements that created more collaboration in areas like the Great Lakes and the Florida Everglades.”

One of his goals is to build on the already strong conservation partnership here in Iowa. “Iowa’s conservation accomplishments ranks us among the national leaders,” Simon said. “We’ll be continuing those good things along with an emphasis on quality planning and technical assistance, forging relationships and accelerating implementation of conservation on the land.”

Through his NWTF and TNC experiences, he identified and developed partnerships that shared similar goals and focus. And he’s quick to acknowledge that Iowa NRCS will need to expand its partnerships to help Iowa farmers address the goals of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy that calls for reducing nitrate and phosphorous levels by 45 percent.

“We need a diverse set of experts working with us,” Simon says. For example, soil health is an area that needs more research and attention. “It’s sometimes a hard sell because it’s not as visible until you take a shovel to the ground. Once you see the earth worms and other living organisms and the richness; well, it’s just vibrant and the land is more productive.”

More than thirty years of experiences certainly prepared Simon for the challenges ahead. “I inherited one of the best teams in the Nation,” he said. “What’s happening in Iowa only reinforces our direction as well as the need for deep collaboration. We all want clean water. Every one of us.”