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SOIL CONSERVATION: Iowa NRCS undergoes reorganization plan

By Kurt Simon, Iowa State Conservationist, USDA-NRCS

In December, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue signed off on the Iowa NRCS staff reorganization plan allowing us to move forward with it this year.

The reorganization was a multi-year planning process. I sent members of our leadership team to several other states, including Oregon, Oklahoma and Indiana, to study their organizational structures. Eventually, we decided on a plan that we feel best suits Iowa NRCS and our customers.

Some key points about the new structure:

• All 100 Iowa NRCS field offices will have a district conservationist. Two-thirds of Iowa offices were part of a shared management unit, so only 34 offices had their own district conservationist.

• Twenty-five resource teams will cover four-county resource areas. A resource team lead will supervise a staff of resource conservationists, soil conservationists, soil conservation technicians, civil engineering technicians, Farm Bill specialists and others who will work in four-county areas.

• Partner staff will continue in their coverage areas. Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Pheasants Forever, Soil and Water Conservation District and other conservation partners stationed in our offices will continue to cover the same areas.

A primary reason for a structure change is to have one district conservationist in every NRCS field office. We want the DCs to be the “face” of our local offices.

Another reason for the change is to have more flexibility to manage workload. To have the ability to “triage” people within our teams to locations to shift workload for emergencies will be very helpful.

Lastly, our reorganization helps us more closely align with federal guidelines of the 10-to-1 employee to supervisor ratio.

The resource teams began working together in March, but due to office space limitations many team members will be unable to move to the resource team locations. Eventually, resource team offices will be located in the same building as our field office and Farm Service Agency staff.

The staff restructuring is not due to staff reductions. In fact, we will be adding staff this year to help fill our open DC positions and many spots on the resource teams.

We are hiring more than 100 soil conservationists (one for every office), along with soil conservation technicians, resource team leads, and civil engineering technicians.