Kaitlin Gibbons has a unique position within agriculture; she is a conservation agronomist for the Franklin County Conservation District office and Ottawa Cooperative out of Ottawa, Kansas. To Gibbons, it is her dream job – a role she says she did not even know existed during college. However, for the agricultural community, her role is a first-of-its-kind position that bridges the gap between public and private sectors.
Gibbons was hired through a technical assistance grant by the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD), Truterra, LLC and USDA’s National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to foster and develop new partnerships and solutions on the farm.Growing up on a family farm in northeast Missouri, Gibbons farmed alongside her grandfather, father and brother producing corn and soybeans. She said she used to dread farm work, but as she got older and involved with FFA, her interest and curiosity grew. She started to question her grandpa and father about their current practices, and why they did things the way they did. This desire to learn and improve led her to Iowa State University, where she studied agronomy and developed her passion for conservation.
As a conservation agronomist, Gibbons shares her time between Ottawa Co-op and the Franklin County Conservation District office acting as an additional resource for farmers to connect them with stewardship opportunities to improve soil health and nutrient management. She covers a nine-county area working directly with farmers demonstrating how conservation can improve their land and simultaneously improve profitability.
“My favorite part of my job is working with farmers,” Gibbons says. “On the conservation side, I’m not trying to sell them anything. My goal is to help them improve their land and make it more sustainable for many generations to come.”
Demonstrating the value and return of sustainability to a farmer can be challenging, but Gibbons uses the Truterra™ Insights Engine to help.
“Before the Truterra™ Insights Engine, you couldn’t really pinpoint the value of sustainability,” said Gibbons. “Now you can, and that has changed the conversation.” The Truterra™ Insights Engine allows Gibbons to run simulations to show farmers the impacts of implementing sustainable practices, such as decreasing their tillage, not only on the environment but also on their profitability.
It didn’t take long for Gibbons to begin making a difference. After getting settled in her role, she started setting up appointments. She recalls one farmer who was excited to meet with her because he was on the fence about switching from conventional tillage to no-till. Gibbons used the Truterra™ Insights Engine and her agronomic expertise to demonstrate the overall impact that switching to no-till would have on his soil and profitability. The grower and his wife expressed gratitude and relief that Gibbons was there to guide them through the decision. “Before I left, they said I had been a godsend, and that they had wanted to make the switch but didn’t know how,” Gibbons recalled. “It was so rewarding to hear that from a producer. The work that I do is truly honest and rewarding.”
According to Gibbons, one key benefit of working closely with the NRCS and NACD is her ability to connect farmers to revenue opportunities that make implementing conservation practices rewarding for their soil as well as their pocketbook. Gibbons routinely works with farmers to find and apply for Farm Bill conservation programs such as Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). The application process can be daunting and complex, so having someone like Gibbons to assist is extremely beneficial for farmers.
Gibbons is not only making a difference on the farm but also at Ottawa Co-op. One farmer she met with hadn’t been doing business with the coop for a while, but after Gibbons visited with him, he brought some of his business back. He told Ottawa that having Gibbons was a value-added service the coop provided, and it was her partnership that strengthened the relationship again.
Gibbon’s experiences shine a light on the impact she is having by engaging farmers in stewardship efforts and the future of sustainable agriculture. Public-private partnerships have not been the norm for farmers, ag retailers, conservation organizations and governmental agencies in the past. However, Gibbons is a testament that through some collaborative and creative thinking, that trend is shifting and leading the way towards transformational change in the field.
If you are interested in adding a Conservation Agronomist to your staff or would like to learn more, please contact Becky Kenow with Truterra, LLC at email@example.com.