Staff Spotlight: Matt Helmers

Matt Helmers has been making a difference on Iowa’s landscape for more than two decades. His passion for agriculture and conservation have led to a career working with Iowa’s farmers and communities as they adopt new practices to improve water quality and manage nutrients.

As an agricultural engineer and director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center at Iowa State, Helmers wears many hats – but his focus is on researching and sharing conservation practices that Improve Iowa.

Matt Helmers.

One of his greatest satisfactions is seeing the growth in cover crop adoption and the increasing interest that Iowans have in conservation.

“When we first started offering these programs and field days, they were not always well attended,” he said. “But that has changed significantly as more people are seeing the benefits and are interested in trying new things.”

Twenty years ago, he was part of the team that helped create Iowa Learning Farms – the conservation program that continues to thrive today.

Helmers conducts research related to non-point pollution, water drainage, edge-of-field and in-field practices – Prairie Strips and most other conservation practices being used in Iowa.

In addition, he works closely with a team of researchers who conduct water quality monitoring and modeling across the state, evaluating the performance of current and emerging nutrient management practices.

Helmers earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Iowa State in 1995 and a Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2003.

How long have you worked for ISU Extension and Outreach?

I have been with ISU Extension and Outreach for just over 20 years. I started in August 2003.

What do you do for ISU Extension and Outreach?

I am an extension agricultural engineer. In this capacity I work on studying the impacts of agricultural conservation practices, specifically the impacts on water quality and then relay this information to stakeholders across Iowa and the region.

What is the best part of working for ISU Extension and Outreach?

Getting the opportunity to interact with farmers. It is always a great day to attend a field day and get to learn from and interact with farmers who may have an interest in trying a new conservation practice.

What drew you to Iowa State?

I was born and raised in Iowa and attended Iowa State for my undergraduate degree, so it was a great opportunity to come back home. In addition, if you want to work on agriculture and environmental issues, Iowa is the place to do so.

Do you have any big upcoming projects or events?

We will hold our Cover Crop and Relay Intercropping Workshop Series in February. We are also hoping to hold the drainage school in later August, after not having this for two years. More details will be available later this year.

With your time with Extension, what is one thing you would like to accomplish (or are especially proud to have accomplished) in this position?

I have been involved with the Iowa Learning Farms project, which celebrates 20 years this year. Through this, we have educated many Iowans about various conservation practices. In the future I am optimistic about a new conservation practice, "drainage water recycling," and I look forward to understanding more about this practice and working with farmers who have an interest in implementing this.

Name one fun thing about yourself that not many people know.

I showed steers when I was young and still follow the results of steer shows and sales.

What do you do in your free time?

Spend time with family and play golf.

How do you create a #StrongIowa?

By working with farmers to implement practices to protect their soil resources and reduce losses of sediment and nutrients to downstream waters.