A former state conservationist with USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service in Idaho, Richard Sims began his duties as Iowa's state conservationist in June. As Iowa state conservationist, he manages and provides overall leadership for the agency's operations statewide.
USDA-NRCS helps Iowa farmers and landowners protect natural resources through technical and financial assistance on a voluntary basis. Sims previously worked for NRCS in Iowa as an area conservationist from 1990 to 1996 in Fort Dodge and West Union. From there he went to NRCS in West Virginia and in October 1999 became state conservationist for NRCS in Idaho.
Sims worked in Ft. Dodge, West Union
Sims grew up on a corn, soybean and Angus farm in Illinois. He graduated from Illinois State University in 1977 with a Bachelor of Science degree in agronomy and began his career with USDA-NRCS as a soil scientist in Illinois.
Sims began his job as head of NRCS in Iowa as the record flooding of 2008 struck a large area of the state in June. He is the eighth person to serve as NRCS state conservationist in Iowa.
"Many of the concepts that should guide Iowa as it rebuilds after the floods of 2008 are in place and are working," says Sims. "One of these concepts is good land stewardship."
Erosion lessons learned in 2008
On a farmer's crop fields, this translates to using combinations of conservation practices to protect soil from erosion, he notes. The needs of the landscape and the farmer's business objectives determine these practice combinations. But they most often include terraces, grassed waterways, no-till farming, contour strip-cropping and grade-control structures.
This June, fields not protected by conservation systems often had excessive erosion of more than 20 tons per acre. But crop fields blanketed by combinations of conservation practices most often reported little or no damage.
"Using conservation systems not only benefits the individual farmer, but infrastructure and landowners downstream as well," says Sims. "When conservationists and farmers focus these efforts in defined watersheds, these benefits multiply, creating even greater positive impacts downstream."
More land stewardship is needed
Communities are also responsible for practicing good land stewardship. Towns such as Cherokee and Denison properly managed flood-plain areas by limiting development. In some cases, including the Iowa River corridor, communities are returning frequently flooded cropland to wetlands, which mitigate flooding while providing valuable wildlife and water-quality benefits.
Other communities, including Dunlap and Creston, used federal and local government resources to help build flood-control structures and implement watershed plans that protect their citizens and infrastructure from flooding year after year.
"If we work together, within our watersheds, we can reduce the hardship Iowa suffers from the next great floods," says Sims. "We need to help those at the top of a watershed prevent erosion and excessive surface runoff as well as help those in flood-prone areas take action to mitigate potential damages when the next flood occurs."
Technical and financial help available
Technical and financial help is available through NRCS and other state and federal conservation agencies. With the new farm bill, the state will receive additional federal conservation program funds to help farmers and landowners protect natural resources and prevent soil erosion.
He adds, "As natural resource conservation professionals, we know that severe storms and floods are a part of life in the Midwest. We respect the will and power of nature, and so we listen to what it tells us through the scours in the fields, flooded city blocks and debris-threatened infrastructure."
Whether it's a farm or a city, stewardship of soil and water resources is needed. "Now we need to use this information we've learned and work together to better protect our natural resources the next time nature reveals her power," says Sims.