Latah Soil and Water Conservation District

Dave Huggins
Meet the District Supervisors: Dave Huggins
Reprinted from The Working Conservationist, Fall 2008

By Ken Preston

Dave Huggins is a jovial, affable and energetic District Supervisor for the Latah Soil and Water Conservation District. Descended from a Welsh immigrant who came to America via Ellis Island during the depression in 1931, Huggins grew up in Syracuse, NY. He received his B.S. in Forest Resource Management in 1976, and his M.S. in Forest Soils in 1982; both from S.U.N.Y.'s College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Dave accepted employment working for the then Soil Conservation Service (SCS) in Moscow, Idaho, in 1981 under the supervision of District Conservationist Ken Houska. In addition to his new job duties, Dave found time to complete the writing of his M.S. thesis. His SCS employment would be his first introduction to agriculture. It would turn out to be a serendipitous moment in his life, and would lead him down a career path where he would further develop his life's calling.

Latah SWCD board supervisor Dave Huggins. Photos by Patrick Adams

After working for SCS for four years, Dave decided it was time to find new challenges. By that time, agriculture had truly captured his interest, so he took a job working for a farmer in a no-till custom seeding operation in Washington State. No-till farming was in its infancy and there were many unknown risks that these pioneering efforts faced. Along the way, there were casualties, and the operation that Dave worked for became one of them. Witnessing the shutdown of his employer's business, and the subsequent loss of their family farm, had a great impact on Dave's life. He decided he wanted to make a difference for agricultural producers, and believing that no-till could be one of the answers, he went back to college. This time he chose Washington State University (WSU), in Pullman, WA, and entered the PhD program for agriculture. His studies would center on researching methods to improve the viability of no-till farming. Dave received his PhD in 1991.

While Dave was working on his PhD, he met his wife-to-be, Cathy Perillo, who was also a Graduate student in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at WSU. After both had received their respective degrees, they moved to Minnesota so Cathy could pursue her PhD in Soil Physics while Dave was an Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Soil, Water and Climate at the University of Minnesota. The Palouse region, however, never stopped beckoning and they moved back to the area in 1997 when Dave accepted a Soil Scientist position with the USDA Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS). In 1998 their son, James, was born. Dave's nephew, Carl, age 12, came from New York to live with them in 1999. Their daughter, Isabel, was born in 2001. They all lived together on approximately 14 acres just north of Viola. Carl has since grown and moved out, but the remainder of the family continues to enjoy rural Latah County life together while raising various animals including llamas, geese, ducks, chickens, and Icelandic sheep.

Rojo keeping an eye on "his" sheep

Currently, Dave oversees the research operations of the USDA­ARS Palouse Conservation Field Station near Albion, WA, and the Cook Agronomy Farm operated by WSU. He is a well known and respected researcher, and has an expansive portfolio of published works within his professional field. Recently, he co-authored an article on no-till agriculture that appeared in the July issue of Scientific American [Editor's note: to read the article online go to http://www.]. Dave modestly deflects praise for his own work, instead citing the privilege of having co-authored research publications with over one hundred other scientists. He emphasized the importance of being able to complete the circuitry between farmers and researchers. Dave notes, "The interaction with farmers is a real key to research. Knowledge of what goes into the decision-making process at the individual farm level is extremely important." Dave talks at length about his admiration for farmers' leadership and dedication to conservation efforts. "Farmers deal with the realities of nature and markets that form the rules of their operation," he says. "It is critically important for me to develop research that fits within these same realities of the land. Agricultural practice and research must remain grounded to each other in order to capture synergies and avoid negative consequences of being disconnected." Dave humbly states, "Conservation is the challenge of a lifetime-and more."

Bianco conferring with Dave about the Day's activities

Dave first joined the Latah Soil and Water Conservation District (Latah SWCD) Board as an Associate Supervisor in 1997. He later filled a vacancy as a District Supervisor. Since then he has been twice elected to the Latah SWCD Board: in 2000 and 2004. He is up for reelection this year, and is again enthusiastically seeking the position. Dave says it has been the dramatic growth and progressive development of the Latah SWCD that keeps him coming back. He first began attending the Latah SWCD's monthly meetings when he worked for the SCS. He says, "It has always served as an important grounding for me to interact with farmers and take some of their concerns and empirical knowledge back to the research realm." He repeatedly stresses his admiration for the manner in which the Latah SWCD has expanded its scope and influence. He has seen it grow from a minor entity into " independent difference-maker with sophisticated intellectualism, and yet, still retaining a rich, down-to­earth wisdom."

Icelandic sheep have done well at Dave's place

Dave says he wonders about things such as: What are the soil and water implications for the future of Latah County? What unforeseen needs are waiting out there, in addition to the unanswered needs we already know about? How will the conservation needs of the growing number of small farms be met? What, if any, answers are there to the increasing friction at the rural/urban interface? How will the role of the Latah SWCD change in the next 10 to 20 years to address these questions? While he readily admits he doesn't have the answers, it is somewhat comforting to know that minds and hearts like Dave's are concerned about them and pondering solutions. When asked if he had any last things he would like mentioned in this article, he said, "I just want to say that I am appreciative, humbled, and fortunate to be associated with the Latah SWCD Board. I just feel lucky."

And, so do we, do we. Thank you for all you do.

Ken Preston is a Resource Conservation Planner for the Latah Soil and Water Conservation District

Latah Soil and Water Conservation District
Gritman Medical Park (Federal Building)
220 East 5th Street, Suite 208
Moscow, Idaho 83843