Hiring: Research Director – American Farmland Trust


American Farmland Trust is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through our No Farms, No Food message. Since our founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.5 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally-sound farming practices on millions of additional acres, and supported thousands of farm families. Long a pioneering leader, AFT is now riding a new wave of growth, driven by agriculture’s most pressing needs and opportunities.

AFT established the Center for Agriculture in the Environment (CAE) in 1991 in partnership with Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois.  From 1991 to 2015, CAE provided the framework to help AFT recognize problems, identify issues and ask the right questions and create partnerships with university researchers (professors and students) across different disciplines.  The Center shut down its offices at Northern Illinois University in 2015. However, research at AFT continued as the organization embarked on a comprehensive assessment of the past and future threats to America’s remaining farm and ranch land.  The Farms Under Threat (FUT) Initiative uses advanced spatial analyses to map current and past land use, examine patterns of land use change, and assess future threats to America’s most valuable farmlands.  Conservation Science Partners, a nonprofit scientific collective, provides the high-quality spatial analyses for the initiative.  The resulting core analyses, reports, localized data, fact sheets, policy recommendations and media outreach will provide a solid foundation for the long-term protection and conservation of agricultural lands.  In addition to this core research, AFT is also engaged in research on non-operating farmland owners and on ways to expand environmental markets. With the recent expansion of AFT and pending retirement of its current research director, AFT is now looking for a new Director to significantly expand the research agenda and capabilities of AFT’s research center to keep pace with AFT’s holistic mission.

The Director reports to the Vice President of Programs, who oversees the National Initiative Directors and works closely with the Vice President of Programs-overseeing AFT’s 6 Regional Directors.  The Director will lead the Farms Under Threat Initiative and other research efforts and will actively collaborate and coordinate with all divisions at AFT to ensure that AFT’s programming is strategic, efficiently delivered, well-received, academically defensible and impactful.

The Director can be based anywhere in the United States but proximity to one or more academic institutions is desirable with a goal of establishing a Memorandum of Understanding with that institution or a consortium of institutions for greater access to university researchers, students, and post-doctoral candidates.

Duties & Responsibilities 

  • Establish Memorandum of Understanding with a near-by university/universities for greater access to university researchers, students and post docs
  • Re-establish a Research Advisory Board (both high-level academic advisors and nationally recognized practitioners who can help AFT define research questions, commenting on emerging findings and identify researchers to involve in the work).
  • Prioritize AFT research needs and develop project ideas and proposals to meet those needs to further AFT’s holistic mission.
  • Recruit up to 10 Research Fellows (university professors from across the country) who will pursue research in areas relevant to AFT’s mission; research topics may include agriculture and climate resilience, mitigation, and adaptation, water quality/quantity, soil health management systems, and/or socio-economic issues.  Where relevant, Research Fellows may utilize the FUT data, with assistance from AFT’s GIS manager, to develop and test hypotheses.  They would also have access to one-year stipends that they can offer to Ph.D. students or postdoctoral fellows who assist in research.
  • Maintain and expand AFT’s research publication repository (white papers, policy commentaries, publications, “lessons learned” from AFT projects, publications generated from Research Fellow work etc.) working in tandem with AFT’s Farmland Information Center.
  • Provide input and guidance to AFT staff on design and execution of on-the-ground projects.
  • Help regions evaluate the outcomes of their projects.
  • Provide input and guidance to AFT initiatives.
  • Provide research/analyses that can help guide AFT’s policy development and implementation.
  • Oversee and coordinate the multiple components of the FUT initiative including mapping and analysis, development of policy scorecards, extension and outreach to land use planners, policy makers and professionals, and media/communications elements including an interactive website, staff training and professional presentation;
  • Harness the FUT data to create partnerships with university researchers (professors and students) across different disciplines and use the FUT data to develop and test new hypotheses;
  • Identify and cultivate opportunities to work collaboratively with other partners (e.g. USDA, state agencies, non-governmental organizations) to use the FUT data, improve it and/or develop new ways to utilize the data to inform decision making;
  • Work with AFT’s Development Department to help establish an endowed source of funds that will allow the Research Center to offer research stipends for students; an AFT-Endowed Scholar program that offers either sabbaticals for professors interested in AFT issues or post-doctoral opportunities that would combine research with policy development and, ultimately, an endowed chair for the Research Director.
  • Other duties as assigned.
  • A PhD and at least five to ten years of related experience in an agricultural discipline, conservation biology, landscape ecology or a related field.
  • Demonstrated understanding of integrated GIS applications.
  • Demonstrated project management skills and experience managing diverse teams of individuals, peers and partners.
  • Work history of developing and implementing effective programs and projects.
  • Demonstrated experience in using research results to inform policy making at the state and/or federal levels.
  • Demonstrated ability to tap into and partner with academic networks.
  • Demonstrated experience and success in fundraising.
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills.
  • Ability to deliver high quality work in a dynamic organization under time pressure.
  • Collaborative, outgoing, professional and innovative approach to tackling the future threats to agricultural lands.
  • Ability to travel 15-25 percent of time.


Salary is competitive and commensurate with experience and background.  AFT provides a full and generous benefits package.

Please include a cover letter with resume for consideration.


American Farmland Trust provides equal employment opportunities (EEO) to all employees and applicants for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetics. In addition to federal law requirements, American Farmland Trust complies with applicable state and local laws governing nondiscrimination in employment in every location in which the organization has facilities. This policy applies to all terms and conditions of employment, including recruiting, hiring, placement, promotion, termination, layoff, recall, transfer, leaves of absence, compensation and training.

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