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Nebraska state conservationist outlines goalsNebraska state conservationist outlines goals

Iowa native Robert Lawson brings 18 years of NRCS experience to his new position.

Curt Arens

March 3, 2022

2 Min Read
wild flowers in field
LAND MATTERS: Nebraska’s ample natural resources of land and water make it a powerhouse among agricultural states. Nebraska’s new state conservationist, Robert Lawson, says that Nebraskans care deeply about their natural resources, and that taking care of those resources also helps the bottom line for farmers and ranchers. Curt Arens

An Iowa native was recently named the new USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Nebraska state conservationist.

Robert Lawson, who started his new position Feb. 13, grew up on a family farm in southeast Iowa and received his bachelor’s degree in public service and administration from Iowa State University. Working for NRCS over the past 18 years, Lawson has served in field offices in Iowa and Illinois, and has held NRCS leadership positions in Wisconsin and Indiana.

Craig Derickson served as the state conservationist for a decade before retiring at the end of 2020 after 35 years of federal service. Since then, Jeff Vander Wilt, Britt Weiser, John Wilson and Stacy Riley have acted as the state conservationist. Now, Lawson takes the helm.

Farmer challenges

Lawson acknowledges that Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers are dealing with the same issues as other producers across the Midwest, including increasing land prices, rising input prices, weather extremes and more worries about the bottom line.

“That’s where NRCS can be helpful,” he says. “Landowners’ concerns can be partially addressed by having healthy natural resources. We know that healthy soil can help decrease inputs, because practicing no-till saves time and fuel, and improving irrigation efficiency saves water and pumping costs.”

All of these and other conservation measures can help improve the profit margin. “I also get that it’s not just about profits,” Lawson says. “Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers care about leaving their land in better shape than how they found it. Sustainability means being able to continue doing the work on the land they love, and NRCS can help make that goal happen.”

Expand outreach

Lawson understands the strong conservation ethic of Nebraska growers. “To help meet the deep desire Nebraskans have to care for natural resources on private lands, I want to build on the already strong Nebraska conservation partnership,” he says.

“We can’t do it alone, and we don’t want to. To meet the need of natural resources conservation, I plan to expand our outreach to new conservation partners, because bringing more partners to the table can help us all leverage our efforts and our dollars to get more conservation on the ground.”

This benefits all Nebraskans, he adds. Lawson also hopes to make conservation accessible to everyone who wants it. Because conservation programs are entirely voluntary, producers only have to participate if they wish.

“But if a farmer, rancher, land manager, absentee landowner, urban grower or anyone growing food or fiber wants to participate in conservation, they should have the equal opportunity and access to do so,” he says. “That’s my No. 1 goal.”

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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