Pritchard Lecture

Building a Culture of Conservation

Monday, July 30, 2018
9:00 AM -10:00 AM, Ballroom A/B on Upper Level West Building

Presenter: Jacqueline Comito, Anthropologist, Iowa State University, and Director of Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms

How do we build a culture of conservation? Through engaging examples and stories, Jacqueline Comito will demonstrate ways to build an inclusive culture of conservation that strengthens our commitment to value natural resources in our lives. She asserts that this commitment will lead to a more sensitive stewardship of our cultural history and natural environment that will be transmitted from generation to generation. Comito will demonstrate that the most powerful tools in our outreach toolkit are our humor, caring, creativity, and curiosity.


A 2015 recipient of the Environmental Law Institute’s National Wetlands Award for Outreach and Education, Jacqueline Comito is actively involved in research, extension, and outreach activities in the areas of water, watershed-based community activities, and environmental attitudes. Comito, an anthropologist, is the director of two highly successful outreach and education programs at Iowa State University: Water Rocks! and Iowa Learning Farms. Her creativity and vision have propelled these programs to become highly successful and often requested across Iowa and the Midwest. Iowa Learning Farms, now in its 14th year, is the catalyst that has brought farmers and Iowans together to learn from one another to adopt conservation practices on the land, including wetlands. Water Rocks! has reached over 100,000 people across the Midwest—many of them youth! Comito interacts with a variety of stakeholders, including farmers, interested citizens, teachers, youth, environmental groups, and agency personnel. Along with anthropological work, Comito serves as a video writer, director, and producer as well as a music lyricist, producer, and musician and will be featured in the upcoming Rutgers University Press book, Anthropological Lives: An Introduction to the Profession. Comito (along with two other colleagues) won a 2018 American Society of Agriculture and Biological Engineers Blue Ribbon Award for Educational Aids for Water Rocks! “Rock Your Watershed! A Game of Choice and Chance.”

A PDF of the Pritchard Lecture and General Session Speakers is available.

General Session Panel

Valuing Our Land: Where Agriculture, Environment, and Ethics Connect

Tuesday, July 31, 2018
8:00 AM - 9:15 AM, Ballroom A/B on Upper Level West Building

Panel Presentation: Farms Under Threat: The State of America’s Farmland

Presenter: Ann Sorensen, Research Director, American Farmland Trust

Last year, American Farmland Trust (AFT) provided a sneak peak of its ambitious effort to quantify 30 years of farmland conversion. However, the 30-year retrospective was too variable to be useful at finer resolutions. Now, AFT has released its national report, Farms Under Threat, analyzing agricultural land in the continental United States lost to farmland conversion between 1992 and 2012. It improves our national inventory of agricultural lands by mapping (1) a new class of agricultural lands that estimates woodlands associated with farm enterprise; (2) grazing on federal lands; (3) low-density residential development on agricultural lands; (4) spatial patterns of agricultural land uses and conversion to development in a consistent way over time so that people can see the patterns of change; and (5) agricultural lands based on their productivity, versatility, and resiliency to support intensive food and crop production. Farms Under Threat shows farmers and ranchers make use of 55% of the land area in the continental United States. By incorporating new data, AFT found nearly double the amount previously documented by the National Resources Inventory—a loss of almost 31 million acres between 1992 and 2012. Over 70% of urban development and about 54% of low density residential development occurred on agricultural land. These development patterns put higher quality agricultural lands at risk. By 2012, the best land to support intensive food and crop production comprised less than 17% of the total land area. The findings support the need for a bold and comprehensive national strategy to save the land that sustains us. Now, AFT is analyzing the data within each state and evaluating state policies to protect farms and farmland from unnecessary development. They are also modeling development and climate change threats out to 2040 to inform the policy and conservation actions of communities so that they are positioned to produce an adequate supply of food, fiber, and energy for an expanding population.

Panel Presentation: Measuring Soil Health for Environmental, Economic, and Human Well-Being

Presenter: Wayne Honeycutt, President and CEO, Soil Health Institute

With a mission to safeguard and enhance the vitality and productivity of soil through scientific research and advancement, the Soil Health Institute (SHI) has undertaken several conservation initiatives. Since the last SWCS annual conference, SHI unveiled tier one and tier two indicators of soil health, and a round table of experts have come to a consensus on how to measure them. The Institute also secured an investment of nearly $20 million from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research and partnering organizations to help the industry adopt standard soil health measurements and enhance economic and environmental benefits for farmers. Additionally, SHI has brought together a diverse community to kick off a discussion about the connections of soil health and human health. Wayne Honeycutt will speak about measuring soil health for the wellbeing of our environment, economy, and ourselves.

Panel Presentation: Enhancing Value-Based Adoption of Soil and Water Conservation Practices

Presenter: Tom Sauer, Supervisory Soil Scientist, USDA

Adoption of soil conservation practices is often considered to be dominated by economic factors. Sauer will present an alternate view that non-economic considerations are an important factor in conservation decisions. His presentation will explore the role of personal values and their development on an individual’s commitment to soil and water conservation.


Ann Sorensen provides academic research that underlies the policy work of American Farmland Trust. Since joining the staff in 1992, the research she oversees has guided work on four farm bills and supported numerous other legislative efforts. She previously directed American Farmland Trust's Center for Agriculture in the Environment.

She has managed a series of assistance agreements with the Environmental Protection Agency to promote adoption of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and contributed to Farming on the Edge mapping projects that used geographic information systems analysis to document developmental sprawl. Sorensen is a member of the team that is designing and implementing a first-of-its-kind interstate water quality trading program aimed at protecting and improving water quality in the Ohio River basin. She has also conducted numerous listening sessions to collect farmers' viewpoints for use in improving agricultural policies. She was recently appointed to EPA's Farm, Ranch, and Rural Communities Federal Advisory Committee.

Sorensen holds a BA from the University of California at Santa Cruz and a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley. She worked in IPM for the Texas Department of Agriculture and as assistant director, Natural Resources Division, for American Farm Bureau before joining American Farmland Trust.

Wayne Honeycutt leads the Soil Health Institute’s programs to safeguard and enhance the vitality and productivity of soils. He previously served for 5 years as the Deputy Chief for Science and Technology with USDA-NRCS in Washington, DC, where he led programs in technology acquisition, development, and transfer to ensure NRCS conservation practices reflect the latest scientific advances for conserving our nation’s soil, water, air, plant, animal, and energy resources. He served as a Research Soil Scientist for 14 years and a Research Leader for 10 years with the USDA-ARS New England Plant, Soil, and Water Laboratory, where he led and conducted interdisciplinary research on carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus cycling and sustainable cropping systems development. In those roles he led national research teams for predicting nutrient availability, developed procedures adopted by ARS for enhancing national research coordination, and received regional and national awards for technology transfer.

He is a graduate of the “Mastering the Art of Public Leadership” executive development program at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, and USDA’s “Performance Excellence and Knowledge” executive development program. He has served on assignments to the US Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, USDA-ARS National Program Staff, and USDA-ARS Area Office Staff.

Honeycutt’s commitment to agriculture is rooted in his experiences with raising tobacco, corn, and other crops on his family’s 120-acre farm in Metcalfe County, Kentucky. He holds a bachelor's degree in forestry and master's degree in soil science from the University of Kentucky, and a PhD in soil genesis from Colorado State University.

Tom Sauer was raised on a diversified crop and livestock farm in southwestern Minnesota. After obtaining three degrees in soil science from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and University of Wisconsin-Madison, he joined the Agricultural Research Service as a Research Soil Scientist. He currently serves as Research Leader of the Soil, Water and Air Resources Research Unit at the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment in Ames, Iowa. Sauer is a longtime member of the Soil and Water Conservation Society.

General Session Speaker

Regional Approaches to Climate Adaption in a Research Context

Tuesday, July 31, 2018
9:15 AM - 10:00 AM, Ballroom A/B on Upper Level West Building

Presenter: Emile Elias, Acting Director, USDA Southwest Climate Hub, and research hydrologist, USDA-ARS

As the Acting Director of the Southwest Climate Hub, Emile Elias has been part of the Climate Hubs since they began in 2014. The hubs deliver science-based knowledge, practical information, and program support to farmers, ranchers, forest landowners, and resource managers to support climate-informed decision making in light of the increased risks and vulnerabilities associated with a changing climate. Elias will share with the audience the latest research and resources available through the hubs nationally and regionally to support conservation professionals and those they serve to connect conservation and climate.


Emile Elias is the Acting Director at the USDA Southwest Climate Hub and a Research Hydrologist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service. She holds a MS in watershed science from Colorado State University and a PhD in hydrology from Auburn University. Her research interests include land use and climate change impacts on hydrology, water quality, and agricultural communities in the southwestern United States. Emile collaborates with partners to study and report on the impacts of regional changes on water resources, agriculture, and interconnected communities reliant on these resources to support both resilient landscapes and resilient communities. This includes publishing in traditional peer-reviewed scientific journals, developing tools for informed decision-making, and managing science synthesis projects and stakeholder outreach. She has reported on the cumulative impacts of climate change on snowmelt runoff in western streams and is serving on the Southwestern Chapter of the 4th National Climate Assessment.