Experiences of an unusual conservation intern

Posted August 15, 2013 at 11:01 am


By Matt Blaser, Jones SWCD Intern

The summer of 2013 has been one of the most dynamic, interesting, and valuable experiences I have had in my education. My name is Matt Blaser, and I am the summer intern with the Jones Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD), working in partnership with the USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Many of you have probably worked with the SWCD and NRCS, so this internship may not seem so unusual to you, but to a guy like me who grew up in Cedar Rapids most of my life and had never worked with agricultural production, this internship was an eye-opener.

I am going into my senior year at Iowa State, triple majoring in Accounting, Finance and Environmental Studies. While those areas of study don’t seem to tie directly to agricultural production, I’m learning that they are indeed intertwined and include a soil and water conservation component. Environmental Studies is largely based on policy and light sciences, studying environmental issues in the world and how we can address them. So, no, nothing directly related to Agronomy.

Now let me explain why there is an accountant working with conservation. My passion is working with the long-term finances of environmental issues. I like to take a look at practices, like those in conservation, and figure out what the full costs and benefits are. My education likes to look past gross yield, gross profit and look at the bottom line, net profit. To fully understand the different relationships associated with the finances of conservation, I needed to understand better what goes on in the field.

This summer has been full of learning for me so far. I hope that I can contribute back some different insights on the finances that come into play…maybe.

The variety of work that comes with this internship is like nothing else I have ever done before. I have gone out with the technicians and conservationists on all sorts of jobs, like: compliance reviews, structure checkouts, surveying, field days, tours, soil investigations, follow-ups, urban conservation layouts, and CRP checks. That just includes what has been done outside the office!

After I cannot convince the hardworking employees of the NRCS and SWCD to take me out to the field, I do get put behind a computer. Then I start doing things like writing this article. I also work on things such as the website for the SWCD, www.jonesswcd.org – which you should check out – and go to the “Contact Us” page and give feedback (sorry about the shameless plug, but really it is a great resource that will save you time)! I have been able to get into some of the design and contracting programs to contribute a little there as well (I know more about contracts than I do designs). I do get opportunities to research some of the business elements of conservation and the organizational operations too. Of course, there is the paper shredding, which I incorrectly assumed was a joke in the interview, letter mailings and “other duties as assigned.”

Overall, this has been a fantastic learning experience and has constantly kept me on my toes. I have had work in the past that seems like the days drag on, but not here, not with conservation. If anyone is interested in a career in conservation, or finds it interesting, I would strongly encourage looking for internships with a conservation district or NRCS. You will find conservation is more than you think. If there are no internships available you can always sign up to be a volunteer and make a real contribution to your area.

For more info, stop by our office in the USDA Service Center at 300 Chamber Drive in Anamosa, or give us a call at 319-462-3196, ext. 3.