Fred Iutzi, who grew up on an Illinois farm and whose career has focused on the sustainability of agriculture and rural communities, has been named president of The Land Institute, based in Salina.
Institute Chairman Angus Wright said Iutzi’s vision for a more just and sustainable agriculture is a good fit for the nonprofit agriculture research organization that is developing an agriculture modeled after natural ecosystems and based on perennial cereal crops grown in mixtures with legumes or other crop types.
Iutzi will succeed Wes Jackson, who founded the institute 40 years ago. He will take the helm Oct. 1. Although retiring as president, Jackson will remain active in the organization and serve as president emeritus.
Iutzi has deep ties to The Land Institute. He formerly was part of its Fellows program, and attended seven Fellows workshops. His career has focused on farm research and rural development, including management, fundraising and program development. He presently serves as manager of agriculture, energy and cooperative development programs for the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University. He earned a bachelor’s degree in geography at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and a master’s degree in sustainable agriculture and agronomy at Iowa State University.
“Beyond its formative influence on me personally, I see The Land Institute as a world leader in crafting the structural changes needed to our cropping systems before ag can become a net source of solutions — not problems — for ecosystem functioning,” Iutzi said. “So for me, this is truly an opportunity suitable to build a life’s work around.”
Iutzi’s views reflect his background in agriculture. “Fighting soil erosion was pretty much a basic moral value around my house growing up, and I’m proud of the creative sustainability efforts I have witnessed in the ag sector,” he said. “But at the same time we have to acknowledge that we have not yet closed the gap on soil, water, biodiversity and climate impacts.”
He sees The Land Institute’s efforts to develop perennial crops that mimic the functioning of natural ecosystems as the needed response. “If you look at a crop production budget, we still spend too much of our resources, year after year, on fighting the ecological processes at work in the field in order to get a crop established. What if we could harness those processes rather than fighting them?”
He and his wife Melissa Calvillo and their two children — Phillip, 4, and Maria, 7 months — will move to Salina from Dallas City, Ill., where they currently represent the fifth and sixth generation to live on the family farmstead.
A five-member, Board-appointed committee conducted an international search to find a successor to Jackson, who last year announced his intention to step down as president.
“We are confident Fred will provide vigorous leadership, and we are very proud to have been able to bring him to The Land Institute as president,” Wright said.
Jackson said Iutzi’s history with The Land Institute and his passion for its long-term research agenda provide an envious continuity that is important for leadership transition.
Iutzi will oversee an annual budget of $5.4 million and lead a team of 31 year-round employees that includes seven doctorate-level scientists. The organization’s plant research on grains, oilseeds and legumes is done in Kansas at locations near Salina and Lawrence, but that work is augmented by collaborations the institute has developed with other research organizations and universities across the globe.
“I’m especially excited to be joining The Land Institute at a time when a really robust network of international collaborators is coming into the picture,” Iutzi said. “These relationships add to our research capacity and help tailor the perennial polyculture concept to other places and ecosystems.”
Land Institute collaborators are indicators of a growing movement intent on developing food production globally that works in harmony with the environment, protecting soil from loss and degradation, and curtailing the need for chemicals, he said.
There are thousands of individuals who have made TLI’s vision a reality, and we will continue to depend on that support in the future, Iutzi said, adding that he looks forward to getting to know the extended Land Institute family, including donors, collaborators and partners.
Story by: Scott Seirer / The Land Institute