Debbie Moreland: A commitment to preserve & protect

By Judy Riley

A farm wife, a nurse practitioner, a real estate broker to a statewide leader in agriculture and natural resources–that’s Debbie Moreland. Each of those roles contributed to her success as program administrator of the Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts.

Her understanding of the need to conserve water and soil became apparent when she married into the Moreland family. Her husband managed 300 cows and 2,000 acres of row-crop land in western Pulaski County. As a nurse, she brought all available resources to get the best possible outcome for her patients. As a real estate broker, she learned the value of the land and its potential for agriculture production and for recreation, all tied to the stewardship of natural resources. She brought the same passion to get the best resources for the best outcome for our state’s environment.

A farm whose owner participates in the U of A Division of Agriculture Discovery Farm program. U of A specialists work with farmers to monitor run off of water and nutrients, helping farmers sustain the viability and health of the soil. Debbie Moreland helped get funding to support this program.

Conservation Districts were born out of the difficult circumstances of the 1930s and efforts of the New Deal to improve the quality of life of rural Americans. The need to develop water and soil conservation techniques to avoid another Dust Bowl gave rise to new conservation practices to protect America’s agriculture. Those practices grew in depth and breadth to meet the changing circumstances of agriculture to feed and clothe a growing population. But their message is still the same. According to Mike Sullivan, state conservationist with National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), “Conservation Districts promote locally led, incentive-based conservation.”

The path of Debbie’s life journey reads like a roadmap of taking advantage of every leadership opportunity and every connection to make the world of natural resources come alive. She began this epic quest by participating in two University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture opportunities: Extension Homemakers and LeadAR, the UA’s premier leadership training program. She quickly rose to president of EHC and an advocate for the UA on a national scale.

“Debbie is recognized as a mentor for other women and an overall champion for the Natural State,” said Dr. Mark Cochran, vice president for the Division of Agriculture. “She has been particularly effective in progressing environmental stewardship as it relates to soil, water and natural resource conservation. Her efforts should be appreciated by all for making Arkansas a much better place to live and work and raise our families.”

Debbie has a respected leadership role in a male-dominated field. According to Andrew Wargo III, former president of Arkansas Association of Conservation Districts (AACD), “She knows how to lead without offending, is good at getting a diverse group to a consensus, and she knows everyone. She has more connections than three miles of switchboard!”

photo courtesy of Lacey Duncan Photography

 Current AACD President Martha Manley said Debbie is a “go-getter” and a warrior for conservation.

“Debbie is as consistent a person as I have ever known: always smiling, always encouraging others, always prepared, always honest,” said Barbara Penny, longtime friend and real estate associate. “Her ability to ask the right questions and come to a decision is legendary.”

Former UA Associate VP and Director of Extension Dr. Rick Cartwright said, “I’ve known many leaders, facilitators, coordinators, and ‘doers’ in my career. Debbie is one of the best communicators and most respected professionals I have known. She always makes it look so easy. She is a great example of thoughtfulness, enthusiasm and ‘straight shootin’ in communication.” 

Dr. Mike Daniels, who co-leads the UA Discovery Farm program, a multi-agency effort to improve agriculture sustainability, said Debbie’s leadership style is simple–she gives ownership to everyone, never caring who gets the credit.

“Debbie is passionate about soil and water. Her leadership and work ethic contributed greatly to Arkansas being recognized as a leader in conservation,” said Randy Young, former director of the Arkansas Natural Resource Commission (ANRC).

Sullivan adds that Debbie has accelerated conservation work in Arkansas. Due in part to her efforts, farmers have received an additional $185 million through the Mississippi River Basin Initiative and another $88 million through the Regional Conservation Partnership. She has helped engage more than 200 different conservation partners in making Arkansas better. She encourages a family atmosphere and a team-building approach.

Two work associates, Amanda Mathis, assistant state conservationist, and Helen Denniston, state resource conservationist, can’t say enough about Debbie’s skills. “I love to watch Debbie work a room,” Amanda said. “She is intimidated by no one; instead, she charms them all.” Helen added that Debbie is the ultimate professional with an extraordinary amount of energy and an undying positive attitude.

Why does her work matter to everyone? All Arkansans benefit from our safe, affordable food supply, our pristine lakes and streams, our beautiful vistas, all our natural resources. This tall, striking, determined woman with the engaging personality has changed the dynamic of Arkansas’ environment. She has worked tirelessly for us all, truly a “wonder woman in the 501.”