Honoring his longtime active involvement and support for soil and water conservation, the Iowa Outstanding Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioner Award for 2020 was recently presented to Hubert Staggs. For 51 years he has served as a commissioner and two years as assistant commissioner for the Wayne Soil and Water Conservation District in Wayne County in southern Iowa.
Currently vice chairman of the SWCD board, Staggs served as chair for 24 years from 1988 to 2012. He also serves as treasurer of the Wayne Boosters, a conservation advocacy group. The boosters are a local organization promoting and advocating for natural resource conservation.
For decades, Wallaces Farmer has sponsored the Iowa Outstanding Soil and Water Conservation District Commissioner Award. Each county in Iowa has a SWCD board to oversee government conservation programs and assistance in the county. The commissioners are elected by the voting public to serve a four-year term. They are elected and re-elected on a nonpartisan basis.
Conservation for community
Staggs was nominated for the award by the Wayne SWCD. In a letter of support for his nomination, Sherry Trower, conservation assistant in the SWCD office at Corydon, said, “Hubert should be recognized for his years of service not only to our district but the entire community.”
She added, “Hubert has always been ready to step up and do whatever is necessary when it comes to either the Wayne Soil and Water Conservation District or the Wayne Boosters. Many times, I’ve called him needing something and he would come to our office to help. Active in organizations in our county, he has served on the Farm Bureau board and is serving on the Veterans Affairs board. Hubert is one of those unsung heroes that doesn’t want to be noticed or recognized for all he does. He believes that’s just what you should do: help your community and your neighbors.”
At age 37, Staggs was encouraged and inspired by commissioner T.J. Thompson to get involved with the Wayne SWCD board. In 1967, Staggs began as an assistant commissioner for two years and was elected to the board in 1969.
“Hubert gives T.J. Thompson credit for inspiring him to educate his fellow farmers along with the youth of our county to leave this world in better shape than when you began,” Trower says. “Hubert found his passion in educating youth on the importance of being responsible in caring for the land, and how to protect and enhance it.”
Practicing what you preach
Over the years, Staggs has constructed many conservation practices on his 320-acre family farm near Seymour, including terraces and grass waterways. Currently the ground is in the Conservation Reserve Program.
“Hubert has been very active not only with the Wayne SWCD board but also with other organizations within the county,” Trower says. “He’s hosted and been involved in numerous field days over the last 50 years, promoting advances in better ways to protect our resources such as use of no-till, biomass seedings and cover crops.”
Staggs was influential in successfully establishing the Locust Creek PL566 Watershed Project. He attended many planning meetings to secure a joint state project with Missouri on the Medicine Creek Watershed, which brought over $2 million in cost-share funding to Wayne County. He was also very active in informing people of the benefits a new soil survey could bring to the county.
“For over 50 years, Hubert has been instrumental in educating our youth in Wayne County,” Trower says. “He’s worked with all three of our school districts providing materials for the annual poster contests and instructing students on the importance of conserving natural resources. He’s provided and delivered trees to elementary school students for many years. That itself is quite an accomplishment. Hubert also promotes conservation by distributing stewardship program materials to local churches.”
Special services to the district
In 1994, Staggs advocated for purchasing a drill the district could rent out to farmers, giving them the option to try no-till without having to make the investment in buying their own drill. Wayne SWCD now has multiple pieces of equipment they rent out, and Staggs is responsible for negotiating new purchases. Income generated from the district’s equipment rental has been used for many different community projects.
Related activities Staggs has been a part of include all the years of attending monthly Wayne County SWCD commissioner meetings, the annual Conservation Districts of Iowa state conference and more. He’s a member of the Iowa Forage and Grassland Council, Pheasants Forever, Rathbun Land and Water Alliance and Iowa Farm Bureau, and is a township trustee and member of the Iowa Veterans Affairs Board for Wayne County.
Staggs encourages young farmers today to serve as a SWCD commissioner in their counties. “You’ll help guide soil and water conservation efforts in your county and have the opportunity to influence state and federal conservation programs. Advocating for funding for conservation is also needed from the grassroots level,” he notes. “My many years as a commissioner was time well-spent.”
Cultivating conservation with youth
When a farmer serves his local soil and water conservation district as a commissioner for over 50 years, there are many memorable activities and experiences. Asked what was one of the most satisfying for him, Hubert Staggs immediately replied: “Working with youth — cultivating their interest in conservation. Helping them learn about soil and water, and understand the important need to protect our natural resources.”
Every year the Wayne County SWCD gave every third grader a small tree to plant. “I was the person on our commissioner board who took the trees to Humeston, Lineville, Corydon and Seymour schools,” Staggs says. “We still do that today to promote the growth of trees and to help teach kids about the importance of trees and forestry.”
Another annual educational project of the Wayne SWCD during his 50 years as a commissioner was to sponsor a conservation poster contest. “We had first grade on up to include eighth grade,” Staggs says. “For every three grades, we had an age division for the contest so more kids could participate and win. We gave them prize money and had wonderful entries.
“One year a girl won our local contest and kept going through the regional competition, and went on to win the national championship. It’s interesting to see what young people think about soil and water conservation, and gratifying to help them learn about improving and protecting our natural resources.”