A two-day conference at Drake University in Des Moines is examining the changing nature of life in rural Iowa. Attendees at the conference, sponsored by Drake’s Ag Law Center, are hearing from young farmers who have moved toward organic farming practices and from entrepreneurs who are building the state’s wine and wind energy industries. The director of the Ag Law Center, Neil Hamilton, grew up in Adams County in southern Iowa. The county has been steadily losing population.

"We’ve got to create more opportunities and reasons for people to want to come back to the land and be in rural Iowa," Hamilton says, "we can’t continue to depopulate the countryside." The conference includes presentations from farmers who have developed environmentally friendly cattle operations and from people who are trying to make rural Iowa a tourist destination. Hamilton says the issue of how landowners use their land will determine the health of rural Iowa.

"We have tens of thousands of land owners," Hamilton says, "and everyone of them has a different motivation or different connection to the land. And this is trying to broaden the conversation about what are some of those values, particularly looking at natural resource amenities." Hamilton says it’s imperative for leaders in both the private and public sectors to come up with reasons and opportunities for people to return to rural Iowa.