Community Collaboration--Then and Now

January 23, 2020

By Paul Lasley, Iowa State University Sociologist

For generations farmers and rural people recognized that some problems were too large to be tackled alone and neighbors were needed to help.  This was true in the settlement period for big tasks - like clearing land, breaking the sod, erecting buildings and harvesting - and remains true today for such things as formation of agricultural drainage systems, watershed planning, agricultural cooperatives and farm organizations. Threshing rings, where one person provided a steam engine and a threshing machine that would move from farm to farm to help neighbors with harvest is an example of farmers working together.  Working together was also true in small communities for building churches, schools and bringing essential services to local residents. 

County fairs and the creation of the Extension Service provided producers opportunities to share experiences on best varieties of crops or breeds of stock and to share best management practices.  These events, which were often facilitated by the county extension agent who was partially paid by county millage tax on property, highlights producers’ interests in learning about how to improve their farms.  

There are many contemporary examples of producers coming together to address issues that require group action, such as research farms that dot the countryside, farmer-led watershed planning districts, farm marketing organizations, and groups devoted to conservation and wetland restoration.   

One newly created group that builds upon the legacy of producer-led community action is the Harrison County Pest Resistance Management Team.  Formed only two years ago, this diverse team of local growers, agribusiness representatives, local lenders, cooperative managers and farm leaders is supported by ISU Extension and evolved in response to growing recognition of the need for more coordinated implementation on pest resistance management practices. 

While the team has largely focused on weeds resistant to current herbicides, the group also recognizes that resistant diseases must be part of their mission. Larry Buss, a Harrison County producer and spokesman for the group, states that “To truly achieve the best pest resistance management that we can, the entire agricultural community must be included. This means not just farmers and landowners but all entities such as EPA, seed companies, herbicide, insecticide companies, state and federal agencies, financial institutions, farm management, farm supply retailers and universities.”  For more information about the Harrison County effort, visit

The Harrison County model of community response to pest management was the focus of a recent national meeting by the Weed Science Society of America and the Entomological Society of America on a Collaborative Approach to Resistance Management. For more information visit

 This team is producer driven, and team members recognize that group action is needed to stem the emerging resistance to current pesticides. Drawing upon their understanding that some problems are too big to be tackled alone, the Harrison County Pest Resistance Management Team is focused on how to get all stakeholders involved.  

While Harrison County is the first to initiate a local response to pest resistance management, there is interest from members of other counties who view resistant pests as something that needs to be addressed at the community level.

“Some things are too big for anyone to accomplish alone and too important not to try to do together,” according to Paul Lasley, extension sociologist who is assisting the Harrison team.