AMES, Iowa — Landus, the largest ag cooperative in Iowa, is looking to break from tradition.

The company is moving its headquarters from Ames to Des Moines, but it won't be a traditional headquarters. Instead, the co-op calls it an Innovation Center.

"Getting the farmers voice around ag innovation is essential," Landus President and CEO Matt Carstens said, with the idea being that putting an Innovation Center downtown in the state's largest city provides to prime spot for business and farmers to collaborate.

The company plans to enter a long-term lease for an expanded Innovation Center at the Gray’s Landing commercial development site in downtown Des Moines.

A majority of the Landus corporate employees will work from home, as they have been during the pandemic, and the Des Moines space will more for a collaboration space for employees.

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"Office space doesn't pay the bills," Carstens said.

The Des Moines Innovation Center will complement a rural Innovation Center in Ralston, Iowa, northwest of Des Moines, that Landus opened in June, as a place to collaborate with innovators in the field.

A 10-acre test plot on site will host field trials dedicated to proving out new sustainability solutions and demonstrating the latest ag technologies and providing advice.

Carstens noted an event there during the summer where TerraClear, a company out of Washington state, came in to demonstrate a rock picker that attaches to a skid steer.

"The next is phase is: Is there a way to fly a drone to identify where the rocks are in the field," Carstens said. Then beyond that, is there a way to automate the vehicle to drive itself.

So before farmers make investments in equipment, he wants them to be aware of what is on the horizon and to drive innovation themselves instead of a "take what you can get mentality."

Landus plans a series of events at the Des Moines Innovation Center beginning in January. "We're bringing it to a bigger stage," Carstens said.

He also said the co-op needs to think "bigger than just agriculture, it's reaching downstream to that consumer."

In addition to the expanded Innovation Center, Landus plans to build out open-concept employee workspaces at the Des Moines site to give remote workers a space to collaborate and engage with Innovation Center events.

Landus has about 600 at about 60 locations across Iowa. The co-op counts about 7,000 members.

Carstens said while the remote workforce was born out of the pandemic, he sees it as a tool to recruit and retain workers.

"We know that we struggle getting people in agriculture," Carstens said. But with more people working from home, "employee satisfaction is going up."