Making educated ag decisions

John Lawrence’s message from Oct. 29, 2018

Making educated decisions is a whole lot easier when you have the information you need. In our Agriculture and Natural Resources programs, one of the ways we help Iowans make decisions is through Ag Decision Maker. It’s a decision-oriented agricultural business website designed for farmers, lenders, farm managers, agriculture instructors and others. From July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018, the website averaged 7,451 visitors per day. Did you know?

  • Since October 1996 when the “premier” newsletter was launched, Ag Decision Maker has been providing analysis and insight into many of the issues facing modern agriculture. Today more than 15,000 users receive monthly updates highlighting the materials on the Ag Decision Maker site.
  • Economists (including yours truly) and farm management specialists at Iowa State and other Midwest universities and institutions provide the content. (In fact, a check of the archives – thank you, Ann Johanns – shows that I wrote the lead article for the “official” volume 1, issue 1 newsletter published in November 1996, addressing the new CME Lean Hog Contract.)
  • Overall, downloads of Ag Decision Maker information sheets and decision tools reached 1.26 million for FY2018, while more than 240 information files, decision tools, voiced media and teaching activity files were added or updated on the site.
  • The AgDM Twitter feed promotes materials and events throughout the month to more than 1,900 followers.

Given the uncertainty in the farm economy, we need to do all we can to help Iowans with their decision-making, and foster profitable and resilient farms and thriving rural communities. Here are two more resources to keep in mind:

  • Farm Financial Planning is ISU Extension and Outreach’s farm financial analysis program. The confidential, free service consists of one-on-one financial counseling, a computerized analysis of the farm business and referral to other extension programs or outside services that may be useful. Five farm financial management associates are available to help Iowans understand a complete picture of their farm’s financial situation.
  • On the Human Sciences side, Iowa Concern provides access to stress counselors and an attorney for legal education, as well as information and referral services for a wide variety of topics. With a toll-free phone number, live chat capabilities and a website, Iowa Concern services are available 24 hours a day, seven days per week at no charge.

More notes

— John D. Lawrence
Iowa State University Vice President for Extension and Outreach

Design thinking for place-based issues

John Lawrence’s message from Oct. 22, 2018

What do Audubon, Bedford, Coggon, Durant, Mount Pleasant, Royal, Sumner, Treynor, Van Meter and Walcott have in common? They all will participate in the Iowa’s Living Roadways Community Visioning Program over the next year. This is one of the ways our Community and Economic Development unit harnesses the power of design thinking to address place-based issues facing Iowa communities. Did you know?

  • The Iowa Department of Transportation sponsors the program in partnership with ISU Landscape Architecture Extension and Trees Forever.
  • To be considered for the program, communities must have a population of fewer than 10,000 residents, existing transportation-related issues, and a committee of volunteers willing to dedicate time and talent to the visioning process.
  • More than 230 communities have participated in Community Visioning since Iowa’s Living Roadways was created in 1996.

Each community will form a local steering committee representing a cross-section of local demographics, including youth. Beginning in November, these committees will work with extension specialists and other technical experts and participate in facilitated meetings, on-site assessments, technical design assistance, and public workshops – about 100 hours-worth over the next year. Each committee’s work will result in a transportation enhancement plan reflecting the community’s identity and values.

More notes

  • Our 2019 ISU Extension and Outreach Annual Conference is set for Feb. 28. Please save the date. Details will be available in the coming months.
  • You can still register for the next “Creating Accessible Digital Documents workshop, Oct. 30 in the Extension 4-H Building on campus in Ames.
  • More than 80 office professionals from throughout the state will be on campus Oct. 23-24 for the Office Professionals Conference. Office professionals are valued members of our extension family, and we’re pleased to provide this opportunity for professional development.
  • You can still share your ideas with our Internal Communications Task Force. Two new Community Conversations are being added: Nov. 5 in Ames and Nov. 9 in Garner. (To participate, register online at You can send comments to until Oct. 29. Some task force members still have dates available for individual discussions. Anyone in our system may anonymously complete an electronic survey, which is open through Oct. 29. For an update on the task force’s Oct. 18 meeting, read the executive summary on Cybox.
  • The Structured for Success committee held meeting #2 on Thursday, Oct. 18. The agenda, summary notes and video are on the County Services website. Structured for Success now has a menu button on the navigation bar to make it easier to find.
  • Congratulations to Jennifer Bentley, Himar Hernandez and Courtney Long. They will represent ISU Extension and Outreach in the 2019 National Extension Leadership Development program. NELD participants are selected because of their proven track record of programmatic or administrative success.

— John D. Lawrence
Iowa State University Vice President for Extension and Outreach

Impressed and proud

John Lawrence’s message from Oct. 15, 2018

I wrapped up my VP visits last week. After 20 regions, 60 meetings, 1,200 people and 4,000 miles, I don’t know if I made a larger impression on the stakeholders, staff and councils, or on the seat of my pickup. However, the visits have certainly made an impression on me. I am extremely proud of our organization and our people. The stakeholders at the table reflect the respect that ISU Extension and Outreach holds locally. The staff and councils care deeply about their communities and the people they serve, as well as their connection to Iowa State.

Now the real work begins. Did you know?

  • The leadership team will begin digesting and summarizing all the information that was gathered during the visits.
  • We anticipate having a statewide report and regional reports completed around the end of the year.
  • The next steps will be identifying and prioritizing the issues that we can address, so we can develop and implement a plan to create a strong Iowa.

Goodbye … and welcome

A comment I heard many times during my visits around the state was that we often don’t know when colleagues retire or resign or when new folks join our team. So we’re going to fix that. From now on, around mid-month, I will include a list of people who have recently left or joined ISU Extension and Outreach – in the counties, in the field and on campus. In September, we said good bye to the following individuals:

  • Connie Brommel, Warren County office assistant
  • Joann Bartusek, Cerro Gordo County office manager/bookkeeper
  • Camilla Marshek, Johnson County youth coordinator
  • Janet Neppl, Dickinson County office assistant
  • Becky Oelkers, Cerro Gordo County office assistant/4-H support
  • Joe Sellers, field specialist III, ANR
  • Greg Brenneman, field specialist IV, ANR
  • Nathan Crane, regional director, County Services

We welcome the following new staff:

  • Ashtin Harris, Mahaska County office assistant
  • JeanDarrell Waybill, Hamilton County youth coordinator
  • Pamela Kollasch, Kossuth County office assistant
  • Don-Marie Myers, Webster County PROSPER family coach
  • Laura Webb, Cedar County office assistant
  • Katrina Sauter, Scott County youth program assistant
  • Kaysee Phelps, Henry County program coordinator
  • Grant Theesfeld, Sac County Clover Kids program coordinator
  • Ronald Nelson, communications specialist I, Professional Development

More notes

— John D. Lawrence
Iowa State University Vice President for Extension and Outreach

45 down, 6 to go

John Lawrence’s message from Oct. 8, 2018

From a February morning in Cherokee County to a September afternoon at the Audubon Rec Center, ISU Extension and Outreach has celebrated 45 county centennials so far in 2018. Six more counties will reach their 100-year milestone yet this year. I have been privileged to attend 28 of these events and I’ve traveled over 6,300 miles. If my schedule permits, I hope to get to a few more. These celebrations have offered some one-of-a-kind experiences. Did you know?

  • I shared the spotlight with a juggler in Calhoun County, the Iowa History 101 RV in Decatur County, and my guy Cy on several occasions.
  • I rode in a mule-drawn covered wagon during Monroe County’s parade, whereas in Shelby County, I flashed back to my youth by riding on a hay rack with temperatures in the 90s and high humidity (thankfully, no bales this time). I saw, but did not ride, the Budweiser Clydesdales in Delaware County.
  • When I wasn’t able to attend a county’s celebration, someone else from our leadership team was happy to step in and represent ISU Extension and Outreach.

For example, Bob Dodds took part in the 100-year plaque presentation during the opening flag ceremony of the Crawford County Fair. He even was included in the group photo taken with Denison’s Big Bull.

Whether held at county fairs, nature centers, a dance pavilion or other unique location, these 100-year events have brought Iowans together to celebrate our 99 county campus and land-grant mission. We’ll wrap up in 2019 with our final three anniversaries — in Page, Dallas and Jefferson counties. We all can be proud of our heritage as we look toward our shared future. We will continue engaging citizens with university resources in partnership with federal, state and county governments as we work together for a strong Iowa.

More notes

— John D. Lawrence
Iowa State University Vice President for Extension and Outreach

October 2018 program update

Updates from the ISU Extension and Outreach leadership team

Agriculture and Natural Resources

  • The 2019 Garden Calendar is available through the ISU Extension Store. Developed by Richard Jauron, horticulture specialist, the calendar showcases the beauty that can be found in backyards and public spaces throughout the year. The calendar provides space to record the progress of a garden, along with monthly tips that provide timely information for fruits and vegetables, lawn care, trees, shrubs and much more.
  • Farm management specialists led farmland leasing meetings across the state during July and August. More than 1,200 people attended 74 meetings. The program focused on farmland ownership and tenure in Iowa, the latest on the economics of cover crop research, discussion on implementing conservation practices, land values and cash rent trends, cost of production, methods for determining a fair rental rate, communication between tenants and landlords, and the latest legal updates that impact farm leases. Attendees received a 100-page workbook with resources regarding land leasing agreements, sample written lease agreements and termination forms and many other ISU Extension and Outreach resources.
  • Matt Helmers has been named director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center. Helmers, a professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering and extension agricultural engineer at Iowa State, has long been a part of the center and was a member of the scientific team that worked on the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy’s Nonpoint Source Science Assessment. He was also a member of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board Agricultural Science Committee.

Community and Economic Development

  • The 2018 Community Visioning Program is in the implementation planning stage, during which design teams are presenting feasibility reports and steering committees are meeting to plan project implementation. During October, implementation planning meetings will be conducted in Decorah, Peterson and Forest City. Feasibility report reviews will be conducted in Moville, Graettinger and Plymouth.
  • The Office of State and Local Government Programs is taking the Municipal Professionals Institute “On The Road” with courses on budgeting, exams and accounting for municipalities throughout October. Extension program specialist Cindy Kendall will be teaching the class in Osceola, Manchester, Emmetsburg, Mount Pleasant, Atlantic and Charles City.
  • City and county finance officials and elected members of local governments are entrusted with the task of managing finances and making decisions that impact how much revenue is generated and how efficiently it is spent. With changing demographics, state mandated laws and citizen attitudes toward taxes, it is becoming increasingly complex and challenging to manage local government finances. The role of financial planning in the budgeting process is important and has significant short- and long-term implications for community and economic development. To help local governments meet these challenges, ISU Extension and Outreach’s Iowa Government Finance Initiative is offering three-hour workshops for local elected officials, appointed officials (finance, planning and economic development), and other stakeholders on issues relating to public finance and community and economic development. The 2018 workshops will be held in Storm Lake, Des Moines, Mason City, Atlantic and Cedar Rapids.
  • Extension CED staff will be facilitating Navigating Difference cultural competency training in Orange City and Delaware County during October.

Human Sciences

  • Human Sciences Extension and Outreach faculty and staff often present at state, regional and national conferences. For example, Deb Sellers, Naomi Meinertz, Sarah Kirby, Andrew Crocker, Sandra McKinnon, Phyllis Zalenski, Barb Wollan and Joyce Lash recently presented at the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences conference. David Brown and Anthony Santiago presented at the National Association for Rural Mental Health Conference. Barbara Dunn Swanson, Sandra McKinnon and Barbara Fuller presented at the Epsilon Sigma Phi national conference. Lori Hayungs presented at ISU’s PROSPER Rx Project: Planning to Take Action Against Opioid Misuse in Your Community state conference. Barbara Fuller will present at the Midwest Rural Agricultural Safety and Health Conference. Renee Sweers and Rachel Wall will present at the Iowa Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics state conference.
  • Several human sciences specialists recently received awards from the National Extension Association for Family and Consumer Sciences: Continued Excellence Award for Iowa, Jill Weber; Distinguished Service Award for Iowa, Joyce Lash; Dean Don Felker Financial Management Award (2nd place National and 1st place Central Region) for Finances of Caregiving, Brenda Schmitt, Mary Weinand, Joyce Lash, Barb Wollan and Suzanne Bartholomae; Human Development/Family Relationships Award (3rd place Central Region) for Growing Strong Families, Kim Brantner and Joy Rouse; Community Partnership Award (3rd place Central Region) for Women United of Story County, Barb Wollan.
  • Cathy Hockaday has been selected to serve a three-year tenure in the Fulbright Specialist Program. A human sciences specialist, she is being hosted in Malaysia during September and October by the Malaysian National Anti-Drug Agency, Ministry of Home Affairs, for a special project, the “Developmental Approach in Preventive Drug Education Program.” She is reviewing Malaysia’s family and school-based prevention programs and developing a plan for monitoring and evaluating their evidence-based preventative drug education.
  • The “Spend Smart. Eat Smart.” team will be adding physical activity content to the app and website in 2019. Recently, two videos were created that feature at-home activities for cardio and strength training that require little to no equipment.

4-H Youth Development

  • YouthFest, the 2018 Iowa 4-H Youth Staff Conference, is Oct. 29-31, at the Scheman Building on the Iowa State campus.
  • More than 130 students from New Hampton, Turkey Valley, Howard-Winneshiek, Riceville, Central-Elkader, Wapsie Valley, Charles City and Waverly-Shell Rock school districts participated in the Precision Ag and Animal Science Field Days at Northeast Iowa Research Farm – Borlaug Center. Field days help students in hands-on learning and create awareness of endless possibilities of careers in their community. There are more than 500 different job classifications for animal science careers. Due to increased use of precision agriculture, more technicians are needed to install, operate, troubleshoot and repair systems.
  • Forty-six 4-H youth development staff are supporting the dissemination of the SWITCH school wellness program. Extension partners will help conduct meetings, trainings and events with these schools to grow programming capacity and youth engagement opportunities. Thirty-two school districts (37 schools) are participating in the SWITCH elementary program (grades 4-5). Five school districts (11 schools) are piloting the middle school (grades 6-8) version of the program.

Why we report

John Lawrence’s message from Oct. 1, 2018

Happy federal fiscal new year! Today we begin our work for FY2019, while we also get ready to report on FY2018 and start planning for FY2020. In the meantime, USDA NIFA approved our federal FY2017 ISU Combined Research and Extension Annual Report of Accomplishments and Results. We report on USDA’s six priority areas incorporated into our seven broad, interdisciplinary programs. Did you know?

  • We report on outputs, outcomes and impacts for community and economic development, expanding human potential, food security, health and well-being, natural resources and environmental stewardship, sustainable and renewable energy, and K-12 youth development.
  • Our program units annually plan for the metrics they’ll report on. However, if an issue emerges that we need to address, such as a natural disaster or an economic crisis, we can reallocate staff time and divert resources accordingly.
  • In late November, USDA NIFA will open FY2018 reporting, and we’ll start crunching numbers and writing impact narratives to meet a Feb. 1 internal deadline. At Iowa State, extension is closely integrated with research, so ISU Extension and Outreach and the Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station submit one joint report.
  • Together we report on all research and extension work accomplished through federal funds. By late March, the CALS dean, representing the Experiment Station, and I will sign off on the report, which we’ll submit to USDA NIFA by April 1. Sometime next June, USDA will approve our report.

We report so we can share the value and impact of ISU Extension and Outreach – whether we’re reporting to USDA, the university, the Board of Regents, state government, our partners and stakeholders, or directly to Iowans. We strive to be intentional and consistent. Every data point you provide is used in at least one report and often several, as well as staff success stories, research journal articles and grant applications. Reporting helps us tell our story to make sure our stakeholders, partners, funders and all Iowans will continue to support our work for a strong Iowa. Thank you for all you do.

More notes

  • Please join me in congratulating Lesia Oesterreich, adjunct assistant professor and family life extension specialist, who will receive the 2018 Excellence in Extension Award from USDA NIFA, Cooperative Extension, and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. The award is given annually to one Cooperative Extension professional in the nation who excels at programming, provides visionary leadership and makes a positive impact on constituents served.
  • We’re looking for Rising Star interns for summer 2019. This cooperative program involves ISU Extension and Outreach, County Extension Districts, and the colleges of Design, Agriculture and Life Sciences, Human Sciences, and Liberal Arts and Sciences. If you know any Iowa State students who would be a good fit for the program, direct them to the Rising Star Internship website for more information and to apply.
  • Interim Vice President and Chief Information Officer Kristen Constant shares this message: FEMA will conduct its first test of a national wireless emergency alert system Oct. 3 at 1:18 p.m. The alert, with the headline “Presidential Alert,” is scheduled to pop up on every cell phone in the nation (similar to AMBER alerts). Cell towers are scheduled to broadcast for 30 minutes and cell phones may receive these texts over that entire time (and possibly beyond). This test is not associated with the university, nor is it associated with our “ISU Alert” service. No action will be required when cell phone owners receive the test message. ITS will monitor effects on our local systems.
  • The study committee I wrote about in the Sept. 4 update met for the first time Saturday, Sept. 29. This is the first of many meetings the committee will have over the coming year as it studies how ISU Extension and Outreach is organized in the counties and the county-to-campus connection. The committee soon will have a webpage for sharing meeting summaries and other information. I’ll share the link when it’s available.

Members of the committee are:

  • Jamie David (Taylor County Council)
  • Lori Donahoe (Johnson County Council)
  • Paul Gieselman (Louisa County Council)
  • Molly Hewitt (Woodbury County Director)
  • Katharinna Bain (Keokuk County Director)
  • Cheryl Heronemus (Region 1 Director)
  • Larry Tranel (Field Specialist, NE Iowa)
  • Terry Maloy (IECA Executive Director)
  • Bob Dodds (Assistant VP for County Services)
  • John Lawrence (VP for Extension and Outreach)

— John D. Lawrence
Iowa State University Vice President for Extension and Outreach

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