Leadership for Midwestern Watersheds

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2022: $89,607.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2025
Grant Recipient: Sand County Foundation
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:
Craig Ficenec
Sand County Foundation


  • Agronomic: corn, hay, soybeans, wheat
  • Additional Plants: native plants


  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, networking
  • Production Systems: integrated crop and livestock systems
  • Soil Management: soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: leadership development, social networks, urban/rural integration

    Proposal abstract:

    This project will expand the reach of the successful Leadership for Midwestern Watersheds (LMW) meeting series, stimulating knowledge exchange and accelerating outcomes among watershed projects in the North Central Region with emphasis in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.


    The new LMW events will serve watershed coordinators—paid professionals who collaborate with farmers to improve water quality within specific watershed boundaries. This community includes employees of conservation districts, non-profit organizations, and state agencies. Many have a farming background and live in agricultural communities. The common thread is that all work cooperatively to encourage farmers to adopt land management that reduces water quality impacts and improves ecosystem services.


    As a result of participating in LMW in-person and online events, at least 100 watershed project leaders will gain skills and confidence to scale-up farmer adoption of practices that improve soil health, water quality, and wildlife habitat in their project watersheds. They will also learn how to engage historically underserved farmers in their outreach. At least 50 participants will incorporate new planning and assessment tools or methods in their work, and 25 will accelerate delivery of technical and financial assistance to agricultural producers due in part to knowledge gained through engagement in the LMW network.


    We will achieve these outcomes by adding a new in-person LMW event held annually over three years in the eastern states of the NCR-SARE region. “LMW East” will mirror and complement the existing LMW series that Sand County Foundation has successfully delivered in the Upper Mississippi River Basin since 2011.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project will deliver three in-person events, each lasting one full day and the following morning, for approximately 12 total hours of engagement. Each event focuses on a specific theme, with two or three speakers on the first morning focusing on that theme followed by facilitated breakouts sessions for participants to discuss relevance of the topic in their work. In the afternoon, watershed leaders and invited farmers provide case study accounts of projects and farm operations, with additional facilitated discussion among attendees. The second morning focuses on current tools and resources that watershed leaders may apply in their projects, as well as presentations about current and pending policies and state or federal programs. This usually includes a presentation by the State Conservationist for the NRCS in the host state of that year’s LMW event.


    Around these presentations and discussions are lengthy breaks, lunch, and a group dinner providing time for spontaneous discussion among participants. We intentionally leave unprogrammed time to allow for participants to build connections among each other.


    We also invite farmers to speak about their operations in the context of watershed protection, farm profitability, and factors that influence behavior of other farmers. We recruit early adopters of conservation practices to discuss their conservation experiences and their suggestions for influencing their farmer peers to adopt similar practices. Soil health and economics are a common thread in these discussions, with a focus on commodity crops common to the Midwest as these are the acres and cropping systems generally with the greatest opportunity to reduce their impact on water quality.


    Each LMW East event will follow this general format and will draw approximately 70 watershed project professionals from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio. Approximately 150 professionals will attend at least one annual event during the three year course of the project. Also, each year a 2-hour virtual event, presenting additional content on the theme of that year’s prior in-person event, will reach approximately 120 attendees, including both LMW West and East network attendees.


    This project will also produce an annually updated database of active watershed leaders across the NCR-SARE region. We anticipate the complete database to include at least 300 individuals currently employed or (in limited cases) volunteering as the lead coordinator or manager of water quality improvement effort based on a watershed boundary (USGS HUC-8 or smaller size) where agriculture is a primary land use.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.