2017 Soil Health Conference | Speakers

nusser head shot Sarah Nusser is Vice President for Research at Iowa State University and a Professor in the Department of Statistics. As Vice President for Research, Nusser leads efforts to advance and support the research mission at Iowa State University. She supports campus-wide programs for fostering faculty research development, new research initiatives, and new interdisciplinary and inter-institutional collaborations. Nusser oversees several interdisciplinary research centers, as well as units that support sponsored funding, responsible conduct of research, and institutional research facilities. Prior to joining the Office of the Vice President for Research in 2014, Dr. Nusser served as the director of the Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology at Iowa State University for 15 years, where she conducted research in survey statistics and methodology with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service, National Agricultural Statistics Service, Economic Research Service, and National Institute of Food and Agriculture; National Science Foundation (NSF); National Institutes of Health (NIH); and federal statistical agencies, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau. Nusser has served on numerous scientific panels, advisory committees and governing boards with the National Academies, NSF, NIH, U.S. Census Bureau, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, and statistical societies.
 shafer head shot Steven Shafer is the Chief Scientific Officer of the Soil Health Institute, effective May 2016. The Institute's mission is to safeguard and enhance the vitality and productivity of the soil and make it the cornerstone of land management decisions. He establishes priorities, strategy, and implementation for Institute research programs that advance soil health science and lead to useful results. Dr. Shafer joined the Institute after 32 years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). He began his USDA career as a scientist with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Raleigh, NC. His research focused on interactions of plants, pathogenic and beneficial microorganisms, and soils. He completed his USDA career as ARS' Associate Administrator for National Programs, the national leader for planning, prioritizing, and budgeting ARS' comprehensive research programs. He received B.S. Agr. and M.S. degrees from The Ohio State University and a Ph.D. from North Carolina State University, all in plant pathology. He is a native of Marion, Ohio.
 archer head shot David Archer is a Research Agriculturist with USDA-ARS in Mandan, North Dakota. His research focus is on economic performance and sustainability of agricultural systems, evaluating economic risks and returns, and quantifying tradeoffs between economic and environmental impacts of agricultural systems. His research has included a wide range of systems including strip-tillage and no-till systems, diverse rotations, cover crops, organic systems, biofeedstock production, and integrated crop-livestock systems
northey head shot Bill Northey is a fourth generation farmer from Spirit Lake, Iowa who grows corn and soybeans. Northey returned to Spirit Lake to farm with his grandfather after graduating from Iowa State University in 1981.

He was reelected to his third term as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture in November of 2014, winning with 62 percent of the vote and receiving more votes than any other candidate in the state.

As Secretary, Northey has committed to traveling to each of Iowa's 99 counties every year to hear from farmers and rural residents with a stake in the future of agriculture. These meetings allow him to listen to their needs and better lead the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship as it seeks to serve the people of the state.

His priorities as Secretary of Agriculture are advancing science and new technologies to better care for our air, soil and water and reaching out to all Iowans to tell the story of Iowa agriculture.

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Dr. Brian Wienhold is a Soil Scientist with USDA-ARS in Lincoln NE. His research is focused on the role of soil management practices such as tillage, crop rotation, and residue management on soil quality and productivity. He has also participated in the development and validation of several soil quality and management assessment tools.

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Marshall McDaniel believes soils and plants are in a "give-and-take" relationship with regards to carbon and nutrients. Marshall studies how this relationship is affected by management and the environment. He seeks to understand what enhances soil-plant synergy, soil health, and agroecosystem sustainability. Marshall is an assistant professor in soil-plant interactions in the Agronomy Department at Iowa State University. He has a B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Oklahoma, a M.S. in Natural Resources and Environmental Science from University of Illinois, and a Ph.D. in Soil Science and Biogeochemistry from Penn State University.

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Tom Sauer is a native of southwestern Minnesota, being raised on a typical Midwestern family farm. He received degrees in soil science from the University of Wisconsin-Steven Point and the University of Wisconsin-Madison and joined the USDA Agricultural Research Service in 1993. His current research focus is on soil organic matter and greenhouse gas production. These efforts include the effects of land use change and in particular tree windbreaks as climate change adaptation and mitigation practices. He serves as Research Leader of the Soil, Water and Air Resources Research Unit at the National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment.

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John Sawyer is professor and extension soil fertility specialist in the department of agronomy at Iowa State University. Dr. Sawyer provides statewide leadership for extension soil fertility and nutrient management education programs in Iowa related to soil management, agronomic crop production, and water quality. His education program clientele includes producers, agribusiness, crop advisers, and agencies. He is responsible for development of soil fertility and nutrient management extension bulletins, web sites, and nutrient management decision tools. His research focus is the study of plant nutrients in soils and plants, especially nitrogen and sulfur; fertilizer and manure nutrient management; and implications of soil management related to soil fertility and the environment.

udwatta head shot Ranjith Udawatta's primary research objective is to quantify environmental benefits of conservation practices. He conducts research on influences of cover crops, terraces, agroforestry and grass buffers on water and soil quality, and land productivity. In addressing this issue he examines how trees and grass buffers change surface, subsurface, and ground water quality by reducing runoff, nutrients and sediment when intercropped in row crop agriculture. He investigates changes in soil physical properties, pore characteristics, competition among vegetation types, root density, and soil water dynamics for corn soybean management practices understand environmental benefits of conservation practices. Understanding soil carbon sequestration and microclimatic differences as influenced by permanent vegetation represent other fundamental questions of interest.
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Kristine Nichols examines the impacts of management such as crop rotation, tillage practices, organic production, cover crops, and livestock grazing on soil aggregation, water relationships, and glomalin at the Institute. She received a Bachelor of Science in Plant Biology and in Genetics and Cell Biology from the University of Minnesota, a Masters in Environmental Microbiology from West Virginia University, and a Ph.D. in Soil Science from the University of Maryland. Dr. Nichols has worked as a Soil Microbiologist with the USDA for over 14 years, the first three in Beltsville, MD and then at Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory (NGPRL) in Mandan, ND for the next 11 years.

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Tom Buman founded Agren Inc. in 1996 with a love for both agriculture and the environment and the ability to see a more cooperative union between the two. From southwest Iowa, Tom graduated with a B.S. in Agronomy and MBA from Iowa State University. Fourteen years with the Natural Resources Conservation Service helped him recognize the need for creative solutions to critical problems. At Agren, Tom fosters an atmosphere of resourcefulness and can-do attitude that inspires the Agren staff to dream big and produce innovative results for all clients.

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Doug Peterson has been an NRCS employee for over 28 years. He started his career as a Soil Scientist.  He has been a District Conservationist in both a grassland based county in south Missouri and a large cropland county in north Missouri. Currently he is a Regional Soil Health Specialist teaching NRCS staff and producers around the mid-west about soil health, how it impacts virtually all natural resource processes, and what type of management it will take to effectively improve our soils health and productivity. He attended college at Missouri Western State University graduating in 1986 with a B.S. degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in Economics and Agronomy.


berger head shot Steve Berger has used no-till and cover crops to reduce erosion and improve soil health on their 2,200 acre grain and livestock farm in Southeast Iowa. They plant cereal rye cover crop on all of their acres in the fall and then terminate them at planting time for both corn and soybeans .
Something is always growing in their fields whether it is a cash crop or cover crop. We don't just want to maintain but build and improve soil quality. We're doing just that slowly now with cover crops, long term no-till and manure from their 15,000 head farrow-to-finish swine operation. The 38 year veteran of no-till has a lot of experience using residue management and row crop production while developing a microbial system improving soil quality.
lehman head shot Dr. Mike Lehman is a soil microbiologist with the USDA-ARS North Central Agricultural Research Laboratory in Brookings, South Dakota. His research documents the effect of agricultural management practices including crop diversity, cover cropping, and residue management on soil microbial populations and processes.
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Dr. Richard M. Cruse is a Professor of Soil Science in the Department of Agronomy at Iowa State University and also the Director of the Iowa Water Center. Rick received his BS degree from Iowa State University and his MS and PhD degrees from the University of Minnesota. His research, teaching and extension responsibilities are focused on soil management. He is a fellow of the American Society of Agronomy and the Soil Science Society of America, and is a past-President of the US National Institutes for Water Resources.

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Mahdi Al-Kaisi is a Professor and extension soil management/environment specialist at the Agronomy Department at Iowa State University. He provides statewide leadership for extension soil management education programs in Iowa in the area of tillage, cropping rotation, and residue management. His research focuses on the effect of cropping systems, tillage systems, and crop residue management on productivity, soil health, soil carbon dynamics, and greenhouse gas emissions. His research and extension programs designed to provide research-based educational information to clienteles that include farmers, agronomists, crop advisors, agencies, and agribusiness. This information is provided through refereed journal articles, extension bulletins, website, newsletter articles, and printed and online press.

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Rick Bednarek has served as the State Soil Scientist in Iowa for the Natural Resources Conservation Service since 2011. Rick has statewide responsibility for the Soil Health and Technical Soil Services Programs. He received a Bachelor's degree in soil science from the University of Wisconsin–River Falls in 1983 and started his career with NRCS in 1987. Rick began his soil scientist career as a county soil scientist in McDonough County, Illinois, in 1985. In 1987, he joined the Soil Conservation Service in Minnesota as a soil scientist and later as project leader and area soils specialist. In 1999, he became the Resource Soil Scientist in Atlantic, Iowa. Then in 2007, he went to the South Dakota State Office as Soil Quality Specialist and later as Assistant State Soil Scientist.

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Dr. J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr. is associate professor and extension sociologist at Iowa State University. His research and extension efforts focus on improving the environmental and social performance of agricultural systems. His primary area of interest is drivers of farmer and agricultural stakeholder decision making and action related to soil and water quality.

anderson head shot Nathan Anderson graduated from Iowa State University in 2010 with a B.S. in Agronomy. After graduation, he returned to the family farm near Cherokee in Northwest Iowa where he farms with his wife Sarah. He serves as a board member with Practical Farmers of Iowa and speaks on the topics of cover crops, managed livestock grazing, and integrated crop and livestock systems.
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Paul Ackley and his wife, Nancy, and have farmed in Iowa and raised four daughters at our present location since 1969. They adopted no-till early on and realized additional practices were need to maintain and build the soil productivity to sustain us and future generations indefinitely. (We must produce enough forever. John Pesek quote)

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John Hendrickson is a Rangeland Scientist working at the Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory in Mandan, ND since 1999. Dr. Hendrickson has been especially interested sustainably incorporating grasslands and perennials into modern agricultural systems and the potential benefits to sustainability. This is especially challenging in the Great Plains because grasslands and perennial systems are under threat by land use change and invasive species. Prior to coming to Mandan, Dr. Hendrickson was a Rangeland Scientist at the US Sheep Experiment Station and a post-doc at Mandan, ND. John received his PhD from Texas A&M and his bachelor's and masters from University of Nebraska. Prior to going to grad school, John was in the Peace Corps and worked as a crop consultant. John grew up on a small mixed crop-livestock farm in Nebraska.

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Matt Helmers is the Dean's Professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering at Iowa State University, where he has been on the faculty since 2003. Matt received his Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2003, a M.S. from Virginia Tech in 1997, and B.S. from Iowa State in 1995. He served as the nitrogen science team lead on the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy Nonpoint Source Science Assessment.

reed head shot Debbie Reed is the Executive Director of the Coalition on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (C-AGG), a multi-stakeholder forum focused on voluntary, incentive-based opportunities for the agricultural sector to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and enhance sustainability. Debbie works to develop strategies and solutions for agricultural mitigation of GHG and agricultural sustainability that mutually benefit the agricultural sector and society. Debbie previously worked at the White House Council on Environmental Quality as the Director of Legislative Affairs and Agricultural Policy, White House Climate Change Task Force; and in the U.S. Senate, as a Senior Staff on natural resource and agricultural issues for U.S. Senator Robert Kerrey of Nebraska. She worked in numerous leadership roles at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as a special assistant to the Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics (REE), and a special assistant to the Administrator of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS). Her work at USDA included serving on multiple bi-national commissions on agricultural science and technology; and as the USDA Executive Secretariat for the US Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Prior to that, Debbie worked for the Washington, DC Women, Infants, and Children's (WIC) Supplemental Feeding Program; and for various non-profit organizations dedicated to promoting human nutrition research, policies and programs in support of human health. She has graduate degrees in human nutrition, chemistry, and communications.
lamm head shot David Lamm has been an NRCS employee for over 40 years, having worked in various positions; 15 years as District Conservationist for Ft. Wayne Field Office, 6 years as Assistant State Conservationist for Programs in Georgia, and 4 years at East National Technology Support Center as a Natural Resources organic and sustainable agriculture conservationist. David served as Team Leader for the National Soil Health and Sustainability Team, and has lead the effort to provide training to tall NRCS employees on soil health. He also assisted with the NRCS Organic Agricultures and Sustainable Ag effort and was often detailed to NHQ to develop program policy, particularly for the Conservation Security Program. In June of 2015, David was elected as the Division of Soil Health, National Soil Health Team Leader. His experience merging the technical side of conservation, (no-till farming, cover crops, and nutrient and pest management) and knowledge of NRCS conservation programs makes him a valuable asset to the new division.
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Wayne Fredericks and his wife Ruth raise corn and soybeans in Mitchell County just southwest of Osage. Farming for more than 40 years, Fredericks has been a long time user of no-till and strip-till. He has a passion for conservation in order to build healthy, productive soil. Along with conservation, another top priority for Fredericks is increasing soybean profitability through enhancing yield, developing new uses and markets for soybeans, and maintaining a political and social environment favorable to producers in order to compete. He is also passionate about educating consumers on modern farming practices. Fredericks has been on the Iowa Soybean Association board of directors for eight years and is past president. Wayne also represents Iowa as a director on the American Soybean Association board.

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Ray Gaesser along with his wife Elaine and son Chris grow soybeans and corn near Corning Iowa.

Ray has served in many leadership roles both locally and nationally in the soybean industry, the Soil Health Consortium and North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance
Ray has strived to lead in using advances in seeds and other technologies to economically and sustainably grow the best and high yielding crops possible. Conserving and improving the soil has always been a priority in order to preserve and enhance the land for the next generations.

tobin head shot Kelly Tobin and his wife, Irene, have lived near New Market since 1963 where they raised their four sons. He started using no-till in 1979 and has added cover crops the last ten years. Soil conservation and the desire to leave the land better than he found it, is his driving passion. He continues to use the latest soil conservation techniques as they become available. He is a lifelong farmer with exception of the two years of military service during the Korean Conflict. Kelly graduated from Iowa State University in 1987 in Agricultural Studies. He was named Master Farmer by Wallace Farmer in 1999. He has served as Taylor County Soil Commission for 35 years. He served twelve years on the State Soil Conservation Committee and was State Chairman two of those years. During the eighteen years he was a member of the Conservation Districts of Iowa
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Alan Franzluebbers is Research Ecologist with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service in Raleigh NC. He also serves as USDA Professor in the Department of Soil Science at North Carolina State University. Research is being conducted on soil ecology and management for development of more sustainable agricultural systems. Biological soil quality methods and soil organic carbon sequestration are tools often used to interpret the effects of management on soil resources. He is the ARS-lead of the USDA Southeast Region Climate Hub. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Soil Science Society of America. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees from the University of Nebraska and Ph.D. from Texas A&M University.

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Mike Castellano is the William T. Frankenberger Professor of Soil Science and Associate Professor in the Department of Agronomy at Iowa State University. Future gains in crop production and environmental quality will require a systems approach that integrates many disciplines. To achieve this vision, Mike capitalizes on his expertise in soil science and ecosystem ecology in collaboration with a broad range of scientists, managers and policy makers. In 2010, Mike earned a Ph.D. in Soil Science from The Pennsylvania State University.

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Dr. Wayne Honeycutt is President and CEO of the Soil Health Institute. Previously, Dr. Honeycutt held the position of Deputy Chief for Science and Technology with USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service in Washington, DC. He received his Bachelor's degree in Forestry and Master's degree in Soil Science from the University of Kentucky, and his Ph.D. in Soil Genesis from Colorado State University. He served as a Research Soil Scientist for 14 years and a Research Leader for 10 years at the USDA-Agricultural Research Service (ARS) New England Plant, Soil, and Water Laboratory, where he led and conducted interdisciplinary research on nutrient cycling and sustainable cropping systems.

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Sharon Weyers is a Soil Scientist with the USDA-ARS North Central Soil Conservation Research Lab in Morris, Minnesota. Her research focuses on the influence of land management on soil health and nutrient cycling. She has worked in a variety of land management systems including conventional and organic production, perennial landscapes, and dairy and cattle grazing systems. Her efforts are to link conservation management practices, such as reduced tillage, organic amendments, and cover cropping, with ecosystem services that benefit soil and water quality.

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Matt Liebman is a professor of agronomy and the H.A. Wallace Chair for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. His research, teaching, and outreach activities focus on ways to improve environmental quality and agricultural productivity, while reducing dependence on agrichemicals and fossil fuels. His specific interests include diversified cropping systems, weed ecology and management, and the use of native prairie species for soil, water, and wildlife conservation and biofuel production.

muth head shot Dave Muth is a co-founder and Senior Vice President at AgSolver Inc. located in Ames, IA. He and his partners at AgSolver are developing decision services for agronomic applications. David grew up on a family farm in North Central Iowa. He attended Luther College in Decorah, IA, receiving a degree in physics and minor in mathematics. He received his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Iowa State University. Prior to joining AgSolver, David led a research team at Idaho National Laboratory working on bioenergy feedstock production and logistics analysis. At AgSolver David is using their advanced data management and environmental process modeling technology to develop a suite of precision agriculture analysis and data services. David is focused on developing AgSolver's Precision Business Planning approach to land management.
mallarino head shot Dr. Antonio Mallarino is Professor of Agronomy, Nutrient Management Research and Extension Specialist, at Iowa State University. His program focuses on agronomic and environmental issues with emphasis on phosphorus, potassium, lime, and micronutrients including soil and plant-tissue testing, placement methods, use of precision agriculture technologies, and phosphorus impacts on water quality. He contributed to the development of the Iowa Phosphorus Index and the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. He chairs the North Central Region Committee for Soil Testing and Plant Analysis, represents Iowa at the committee Minimizing P Losses from Agriculture, and has served in the North American Proficiency Testing Program oversight committee and as Associate Editor of Agronomy Journal and Soil Science Society of America Journal
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Dr. Jerry L. Hatfield is the Laboratory Director of the USDA-ARS National Laboratory for Agriculture. His personal research focuses on quantifying the interactions among the components of the soil-plant-atmosphere system to quantify resilience of cropping systems to climate change and development of techniques to enhance decision-making for agriculture. He is a Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America and Past-President of the American Society of Agronomy and member of the American Meteorological Society, American Geophysical Union and Soil and Water Conservation Society. He is the recipient of numerous awards and was elected to the ARS Hall of Fame in 2014 for his research on improving agriculture and environmental quality and the Hugh Hammond Bennett award for his national and international work on conservation. He is the author or co-author of 428 refereed publications and the editor of 16 monographs.

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Seth Watkins is a fourth generation steward of his family farm in Clarinda, Iowa. In 1994, he took over the family's heritage farm, which was founded in 1846. The influence of his grandmother and 4-H founder, Jessie Field Shambaugh, also played a key role in his decision to farm. Seth has a cow-calf enterprise of 600 and grows hay and corn for feed. He demonstrates agricultural land conservation for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification and allows outfitting. Seth does a large variety of conservation practices, most of which were implemented after 1998. These practices include: rotational grazing, restricted wildlife areas, riparian buffers, ponds, shallow water habitats, integrated pest management, prescribed burning, windbreak restoration, no-till, cover crops, tile, terrace, inter-seeded legumes, prairie restoration/C.R.P., late season calving, and row crops integrated with prairie strips. Seth's prairie strips are in the beginning stages, but will become a standard native grass seeding, with technical assistance from the N.R.C.S. and I.S.U. Seth is involved with the Iowa Cattleman's Association, Team Beef (Beef Council Running Team), and the Clarinda School Board.