By Patrick Schrable Growing world population and rising standards of living are increasing global demand for the products of agriculture. To enable scientists to more readily identify and ultimately harness genes that contribute to agricultural productivity, the genetic blueprints of many crop and livestock species have been deciphered over the …


By Barbara McBreen Sleeping at the base of a 2,000-yearold Redwood inspired Sean Lundy to seek a career in international development. Opportunities at Iowa State University are helping his dream grow. The summer after graduating from high school, Lundy, a senior in global resource systems and nutrition, worked for the …


By Ed Adcock A standard feed efficiency study on pigs at Iowa State University recently led to a startling discovery with implications for human health research. Scientists identified the first pigs with naturally occurring Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, known as SCID. The inherited disorder was known only to naturally affect humans, …


By Fred Love Rebecca Wokibula, clad in cap and own, was ready for her master’s raduation ceremony. She was one among swarms of others posing in front of the Campanile, the Memorial Union and Lake LaVerne, their proud parents snapping pictures—except for one difference. For Wokibula, a native of Uganda, …

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By Dana Woolley

Lie Tang (right) talks with Ken Blackledge about how his robot will be designed to aid organic farmers. Blackledge owns and operates Black Cat Acres in Nevada, Iowa, with his wife and children.

Lie Tang (right) talks with Ken Blackledge about how his robot will be designed to aid organic farmers. Blackledge owns and operates Black Cat Acres in Nevada, Iowa, with his wife and children.

Lie Tang’s research in field robotics offers a glimpse into the future of organic agriculture.

Tang, an associate professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, develops robotics technologies for intra-row weed removal in vegetable crops. He hopes that by perfecting this technology, he can design an automated robot to lower the level of labor and chemical inputs in small to mid-sized growing operations for farmers who are looking for environmentally friendly weeding alternatives.

Tang, a native of China, was drawn to Iowa State University in 2004 by the reputation of the agricultural and biosys­tems engineering department as being on the forefront of agricultural innovation. “This is one of the best places in the world for agricultural robotics and automation,” he says.

Robotic response

After talking with Iowa growers of small to mid-size vegetable plots, Tang recognized a hole in current weeding approaches that robotics could fill.

“Weeding has been a long-standing problem for many years because there is no silver bullet—there are just too many variables. And for organic farmers, their options are very limited. Their options are either chemical, laborious or expen­sive,” says Tang. “My robot design offers the producer a more effective and sustain­able alternative.”

For organic farmer Ken Blackledge, owner of Black Cat Acres in Nevada, Iowa, the battle with weeds occupies much of his time and energy.

“If a robot could weed a diverse crop planting and be cost effective I would be interested. Management of weeds is one of the biggest challenges I face. The costs involved take resources away from crop development, time needed to market and other more productive activities,” says Blackledge.

A key part of the small weeding robot is the sensing system used to distinguish produce from weed. Real-time vehicle location in reference to plants, rows and landscape will be monitored and adjusted based on two-dimensional and three-dimensional data.

“There are other, larger weeding robots on the market. But these are designed for much larger growing operations and require high accuracy GPS systems—few farmers in Iowa can buy that type of equipment,” says Tang. “The robot will take pictures with three-dimensional sensors to provide more robust information than a conven­tional camera.”

The time of flight of light data will be used to calculate distance, and give a picture of what types of plants are growing in the row. If a weed is found, the small actuators on the robot disturb the soil around the crop and within the row, removing any weeds mechanically without disturbing the crop. The small robot will be designed to travel over planting rows without disturbing the seeded crops, such as carrots, beans, lettuce, sweet corn and many other vegetable crops.

By getting as close as possible to the plants, the robot is able to autonomously remove weeds without the use of herbicides or plastic sheeting while increasing production.

Technology that transforms

Kathleen Delate, professor of horticulture and co-principal investigator, has been enthusiastic about the potential the project holds for organic farmers. She says that not only does the robot offer alternatives to herbicides, it also considers the importance of soil structure.

“Robotic technology for weeding offers promising options for all producers by decreasing labor to manage weeds but also potentially alleviating soil compaction that could occur with tillage. Organic producers especially are interested in this technology because herbicides are disallowed in organic production, and with the increasing problem of herbicide resistance, more and more producers will be looking for alternatives,” says Delate.

Tang’s research group and collaborators had originally manufactured a larger, slightly more cumbersome robot that served as inspiration for the new, smaller and more aesthetic design. “In this generation of robot, we are integrating sensing and controls together to fine tune the robot’s capabilities,” says Brian Steward, professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering and co-principal investigator. “This technology is potentially transforming.”

The future is now

As Steward explains, automation and sensors are developing rapidly. Precision agriculture technologies are quickly being adopted, and thus transforming the farming lifestyle and industry. In order for these technologies to run properly and be maintained, the next generation of agricultural engineer is being trained early to embrace robotics.

“My sons are participating in FIRST robotics competitions,” says Steward. “Students are learning to design robots as children. As they move forward in their education, it increases our society’s aptitude with robotics. If we are going to adopt robots in agriculture, we need people who can build and repair them. That’s happening now.”

As the project moves forward, Tang recognizes there will be obstacles, including economic feasibility. However, he’s proud of the attention his peers have given his work—this marks one of the first times agricultural field robotics has been included in an organic agriculture related grant.

Pioneering innovative and technologically advanced research has been a staple in the department since it’s inception in 1905. It is the birthplace of the first large round baler and whirlwind terrace plow. Over the years, scientists and professors in the department have served as leading investigators of farm mechanics, post harvest grain, farmstead structures and natural resources, proven by their many patents. A feat Tang is eager to replicate.

At this early stage of research and design, it’s hard to tell if Tang’s robot will find a place among other inventions to come out of the agricultural and biosystems engineering department. But with his team, passion and advancing robotics technology it’s not hard to imagine.


By Lynn Laws

Gene Takle, director of Iowa State’s Climate Science Program, has been studying climate change for more than 20 years. His predictions are proving to ring true as carbon dioxide, warming and precipitation continue to increase.

Gene Takle, director of Iowa State’s Climate Science Program, has been studying climate change for more than 20 years. His predictions are proving to ring true as carbon dioxide, warming and precipitation continue to increase.

Twenty-two years ago Gene Takle’s first study on climate change in Iowa was published in the Iowa Academy of Sciences. Using a NASA climate model, he explored a future climate scenario where carbon dioxide was doubled.

Referring to the study’s predictions, Takle, professor of agronomy and director of Iowa State’s Climate Science Program, says, “It showed there would be a general warming, more in the winter than summer; that’s happening. More at night than during the day; that’s happening. Three percent more precipitation; that’s happening—actually it’s been a little bit more than that. It also showed there would be a shift toward more precipitation in the spring and early summer and less in the fall and winter. We now have 13 percent more precipitation in the spring and early summer and 22 percent less in fall and winter than 50 years ago.”

Since that 1991 study, Takle and his graduate students have researched a multi­tude of climate-related issues. These include studying the impact of climate change on soil carbon; stream flow in the Mississippi River; United States food security; and the productivity of wind farms, an alternative to carbon-based fossil fuels.

“We’re conducting studies of a 200 turbine wind farm, for example,” says Takle. “We’ve measured wind speed in the vicinity of the wakes of the turbines. It’s what we would expect. There’s about a 30 percent speed reduction in the wind after the air has gone through the turbines. So our question is, if these guys take out a lot of energy, what about neighboring turbines? Will they experience a lower wind power? Indeed, they do.”

Takle says now their studies are connecting the meteo­rology to the energy produced—what happens when the wind is directly out of the west, for example. Takle has already begun discussions with Iowa State aerospace engineers about utilizing the data being collected from his studies to design best placement of turbines within wind farms.

His multi-disciplined view has produced collaborative projects with people across campus, from architects studying building design, to civil engineers working on roadway construction, and people in agriculture and sociology on a variety of climate change issues. He is excited about using Iowa State’s new super computer, called Cyence, which is capable of running “huge climate models” to assess the impact of Iowa’s future climate on natural processes and built infrastructure, such as the state’s 4,100 bridges.

Takle sees a connection to climate change within every area of study at Iowa State. When he taught his global change course a few years ago, he set out to draw students from an assortment of disciplines. “On the first day I would tell them all, ‘You should study climate change, because you will have something important to say about it. There are lots of things we need to understand from an engineering point of view; wind energy is one of them. But even if your major is philosophy or political science—there are a lot of moral and ethical issues associated with climate change. If we don’t get the politics right, we’re not going to get the rest of it right. Tell me what your major is and I’ll show you a link to climate change.’”

Takle and colleague Jerry Hatfield, director of the National Lab for Agriculture and the Environment, are the convening lead authors of the agricultural chapter of the newest National Climate Assessment, a federally mandated report to be released in 2014.

“It will paint a sobering picture of climate change globally and its impacts on the U.S. One of the key messages of the report is that the incidence of weather extremes will continue and will have increasingly negative effects on crop and livestock productivity because critical thresholds are already being exceeded,” Takle says. “For example, in western Kansas they are finding they are unable to raise corn even under full, continued irrigation. They cannot pump enough water to keep up with the increasing evapotranspiration demand of the plant, which it uses to cool itself down.”

Hatfield says all you have to do is look at crop production in Iowa over the last four years to understand the sensitivity of a cropping system to climate and weather.

“In 2010 we had an extremely wet summer and some of the highest night- time temperatures in late July and in August, which caused reduced yields in both corn and soybeans. In 2011 we had a pretty good growing season; then it turned extremely dry late in the year.

Everybody remembers ‘The Drought of 2012.’ And 2013 started off really wet and turned out extremely dry,” Hatfield says. “We can expect to continue to experience extreme weather variability within and among seasons, resulting in increased variability in crop production.”

Regarding adaptation to climate change Hatfield says, “If climate changed in an orderly fashion, we could easily adapt and change practices, but we’re seeing more and more variation within and among years. Given the extreme variability we’re seeing, it will take great effort to figure out how we build resilient cropping systems.”

Takle says agricultural experiment stations were established to research and respond to problems such as climate change. “Rather than wringing our hands, we’ll work together to find ways to reduce the causes of climate change and develop ways to live with changes we can’t avoid. That’s what a land-grant university does.”


By Melea Licht


Mark Gleason and colleagues cut to the core managing costly apple diseases, improving profitability and consumer safety and confidence.

Mark Gleason and colleagues cut to the core managing costly apple diseases, improving profitability and consumer safety and confidence.

Advances in integrated pest management developed at Iowa State stand to improve profitability for apple growers, food safety for consumers and potentially transform how diseases are managed industry-wide.

Mark Gleason, professor of plant pathology, and his colleagues are working to refine methods of spraying fungicides that fight major fungal diseases including sooty blotch and flyspeck and fruit rots. Their methods use weather and plant biology to pick the best time for application, rather than predetermined dates independent of orchard conditions. The new methods reduce input costs as well as the amount of residue present on the fruit at harvest, which improves safety and consumer confidence.

“If left untreated the black spots caused by sooty blotch and flyspeck make fresh market sale impossible. The fruit is then only fit for the cider market—a loss of 90% of value,” Gleason says. “ And, growers could save $75/acre if three sprays per season are eliminated. Best of all, growers value saving time, since they don’t have to apply so many sprays late at night when wind speeds are low.”

The researchers also are working to activate a regional warning system that will keep producers informed and ready to take action against the costly diseases.

Fred and Robert Maytag approached Experiment   Station dairy microbiologists Clarence Lane and Bernard Hammer with a food challenge in 1937 that would transform cheesemaking.

Together they created the first American blue cheese using cow’s milk from the Maytag Dairy Farm, rather than the traditional sheep’s milk. The process is now known for producing the world’s finest blue cheese.

Charlie Hall didn’t expect his seedless watermelon varieties would transform an entire industry. But, that’s exactly what happened.

Hall’s watermelons, bred for disease resistance and flavor, allowed his varieties to thrive in various soil types and condi­tions rather than a limited geographic area, which was the norm for variety development at the time.

“We went from a locally-based, seasonal watermelon industry to an international, year-round industry,” he says. “I had no idea that someday we’d be able to enjoy watermelon 12 months of the year. It’s a revolution compared to the 1950s.”

His sweet, seedless varieties remain the leading commercial varieties and serve as parents for many commercial hybrids around the world, both seeded and seedless.

Hall, who served as chair of the Department of Horticulture from 1974 to 1990, also worked with industry partners to begin to name fruit based on qualities rather than geographic area. As a result, the “Crimson Sweet” was born, and melons began to be marketed from produce stands across the country.


Lauren Grant, a CALS junior in culinary science, accepted a tough challenge— to create a unique recipe based on food developed in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She came up with two tasty dishes using Crimson Sweet or All Sweet watermelon, Maytag Blue Cheese and Chieftain apples (a cross of Jonathan and Red Delicious developed at Iowa State): CALS Creamy Blue Fruit Dip and CALS Sweet Blue Melon Salad.



By Melea Reicks Licht

Esmail Zirakparvar received a 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award presented by ISU Alumni Association president Jeff Johnson (right) and ISU president Steven Leath (left). His leadership is credited for helping Bayer CropScience become a global leader.

Esmail Zirakparvar received a 2013 Distinguished Alumni Award presented by ISU Alumni Association president Jeff Johnson (right) and ISU president Steven Leath (left). His leadership is credited for helping Bayer CropScience become a global leader.

Esmail Zirakparvar got off the plane in Des Moines from Iran in 1975 as a brutal blizzard gripped the Midwest. With him he had only one suitcase. It did not include a winter coat. Iowa State University drew him across the world to a country where he was unfamiliar with the language, and climate, because it was known as one of the top agricultural universities in the world and for welcoming and embracing those not fluent in English.

Zirakparvar (MS ’77 plant pathology,PhD ’79) was pleased to discover Iowa State’s reputation was true. In Don Norton, professor of plant pathology, he found a mentor and friend. He found a warm welcome.
Zirakparvar says Norton’s teaching provided the basis for a career that would come to include steering one of the world’s leading companies in crop protection, pest control and biotechnology—Bayer CropScience.
In Norton’s nematology lab Zirakparvar also found a partner for his journey. He met his wife, Mary, working alongside him in Norton’s lab. Mary earned a plant pathology master’s degree in 1980.
Zirakparvar’s research is credited for discovering the first known presence of soybean cyst nematode in Iowa. Cyst nematodes are damaging pathogens of plants worldwide. Soybean cyst nematodes cause an estimated loss of $1 billion dollars annually to U.S. soybean producers.
Upon leaving Iowa State Mary worked in nematology at Clemson University and North Carolina State University for several years. Esmail went on to lead and manage businesses for Union Carbide, Rhone-Poulenc Agro, Aventis CropScience and Bayer CropScience in North America, South America, Europe and the Asia Pacific countries.
During his time with Bayer Rhone Poulenc Agro in France, Zirakparvar oversaw technology transfer and management of a new compound now known commercially for one of its uses as Frontline, a flea and tick treatment for pets.
He says he enjoyed moving within the company to see how he could address different challenges. “I realized I could have more impact in management and leadership than in the lab,” Zirakparvar says.
As board member and chief operating officer of Bayer CropScience AG in Germany, Zirakparvar played a key role in the merger integration of the agricultural businesses of Aventis and Bayer in 2004.
“Dr. Zirakparvar was instrumental in growing Bayer CropScience to its current leading global position in agriculture,” says Thomas Baum, professor and chair of the plant pathology department at Iowa State. “He also ensured Bayer CropScience was a global player dedicated to solving food shortages through safe, improved crops and crop products that offer higher yields, more nutrition and fewer inputs.” Zirakparvar says it was the “no nonsense” attitude he learned at Iowa State that made his success possible.
“The foundation I learned at Iowa State was not to worry about politics and just get the job done. That is a huge, huge factor in successfully managing people. Don Norton not only guided my scientific development, he demonstrated a wonderful way to deal with people,” Esmail says. “I am fortunateto have trained under this legend in the field of nematology and this great example of true human dignity.”
Mary adds simply, “Esmail listens to people. If you don’t listen how will you ever know how to motivate them?” Zirakparvar retired as President and COO Chief Executive Officer of Bayer CropScience LP in 2006.
He smiles as he calls his career a “fantastic ride, not possible without the lady who was always next to me and followed me around the world twice.”
Since retiring, among other activities, Zirakparvar has stayed connected to agricultural fields. He has been part of Precision BioScience’s advisory board and in 2010 he joined American Vanguard Corporation, an agricultural products company, as a member of its Board of Directors.
Eric Wintemute, chairman and chief executive officer of American Vanguard says “Esmail’s tremendous international experience allows him to contribute significantly to our analysis of global agribusiness opportunities. His insights into the technological aspects of agriculture and pest control have aided us in strategic and acquisition decision-making.”
The Zirakparvars remain connected with Iowa State. They are members of the Order of Knoll President’s Circle and Campanile Society and members of the Iowa State Unviersiy Alumni Association.
In 2013, Esmail received the Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest honor given to alumni by the ISU Alumni Association. The award honors individuals nationally or internationally recognized for preeminent contributions to their professions or life’s work.
Esmail delivered a presentation at the Don C. Norton Lecture at Iowa State to honor his former professor in 2008. And they funded a research endowment in plant pathology and microbiology to honor Norton. The Zirakparvar Research Endowment in Plant Pathology is intended “to advance the excellence of research within the department to continue its world class reputation.”
“Earnings from this endowment could be used to recruit graduate students or for fellowship support to help attract excellent students,” Baum says. “That’s the challenge we all have—to get the best students. This will be a great tool to do that.”
Esmail says it’s important to help society advance and have a lasting impact in education.
“The discovery of something better— that’s the reason why we established the endowment,” he says. “And as a thank you for all Iowa State University has given us.”

Esmail Zirakparvar, retired chief operating officer, president and chief executive officer of Bayer CropScience, says it was the example of the late plant pathology professor Don Norton (at left) that taught him how to lead. Press him to share a few of Norton’s lessons and he offers these insights for successfully managing people:

  • Be genuine in what you say even if what you say isn’t to someone’s liking. They will respect you for it.
  • Respect people as equal to yourself. We are all human beings.
  • You owe it to those you work with to offer straight feedback.
  • Never ask people to do things you wouldn’t do yourself.
  • As a leader you have to ask what can I do for them not what can they do for me.
  • Honesty isn’t replaceable. Trust can move mountains.
  • You can’t spend time worrying about failing; you need to spend more time doing your best. Sometimes failure is an important component of the job—then admit when things don’t work and move on.
  • When not all team members agree on a task, there are two choices—you can be an obstacle, or you can see others’ point of view and move forward. If the others are proven wrong you will still be rewarded for your contribution.



salad_resize 2Vinaigrette Dressing:

  • ¼ cup white-wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 ½ teaspoons honey


  • Crimson Sweet or All Sweet Seedless Watermelon, thinly sliced
  • Cantaloupe, thinly sliced
  • 2 ounces prosciutto
  • 1 – 2 cups arugula
  • 1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 Cheiftain apple, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup Maytag Blue cheese, crumbled
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • ¼ cup toasted walnuts, chopped


Combine all dressing ingredients and whisk together to fully combine. Set aside.
Start assembling the salad by covering a large flat serving dish with sliced watermelon
and cantaloupe. Lay sliced prosciutto pieces over fruit followed by the
arugula. Top with sliced red onions, apple, blue cheese, parsley and walnuts.
Drizzle salad with vinaigrette until lightly dressed; you may not need it all.

* Note: Proscuitto is a salt cured ham and is often sliced very thinly.
It can be found packaged and sold in the refrigerated deli meats area.

By Lauren Grant, CALS junior in culinary science


By Virginia Zantow

Chia-Wei Chang, executive vice president of The Lauridsen Group, Inc. has grown the food and health ingredient company Proliant from its early days of incubation with the Center for Crops Utilization Research.

Chia-Wei Chang, executive vice president of The Lauridsen Group, Inc. has grown the food and health ingredient company Proliant from its early days of incubation with the Center for Crops Utilization Research.

Enter the Lauridsen Group’s research laboratory in Ankeny, Iowa, and you’ll find researchers developing new ways to make the raw ingredients of Iowa agriculture into ingredients for food and health products.

Space for benchtop and pilot plant research is essential for a food and health ingredient company like theirs. Before this laboratory was constructed in 2012, one place the group’s researchers conducted pilot plant experiments was at Iowa State.

The Center for Crops Utilization Research (CCUR) industry incubator in the food sciences building provided space and technology for benchtop and pilot plant research to Proliant. The company has been part of the Lauridsen Group, Inc. (LGI) holding group since the mid-1990s.

“We used the incubator because it helped us in the beginning when we were small,” says Chia-Wei Chang (MS ’81 meat science), the executive vice president of LGI, formerly the president and CEO of Proliant Meat Ingredients. “The CCUR industry incubator is important to small Iowa companies.”

The process Proliant researchers developed at CCUR involved recovering Bovine Serum Albumin, a protein from bovine blood in purified form so it could become a specialized material used in diagnostic, life science research, biopharmaceutical and veterinary vaccine industries. This process was perfected at CCUR, and Proliant built a plant in Boone, Iowa, to commercialize their production of the material.

Proliant now employs 40 people at the plant in Boone, and the company plans to build an identical plant in New Zealand. Proliant and LGI have grown exponentially since their CCUR days. The global reach of LGI now includes 49 plants and facilities in the United States, Europe, Asia and Latin America. When Proliant first started working with CCUR, the company owned two plants.

Lawrence Johnson, director of CCUR, says it is rewarding to watch small businesses develop new processes and products, commercialize and grow as companies.

“I don’t like just developing technology and putting it on the shelf,” Johnson says. “I like to see new products come out and go down a processing line.”

Johnson says what LGI does—create ingredients, as opposed to complete products—is something Iowa entrepreneurs have a unique opportunity to do.

The proximity of raw agricultural materials gives Iowans in the food industry opportunities to break apart those raw materials when they are fresh.

Chang agrees being in an agricultural state is good for his business.

“Fresh raw materials always equal higher quality products,” Chang says.

If fresh materials are a great starting point for an agriculture-based company, adding value to those materials by innovation is what grows a company.

“The reason companies can continue to grow is that they can add value to a product,” Chang says. “That’s why this new lab is important to our future growth.”

Proliant hires talented Iowa State alumni frequently to discover new ways to add value to their products.

Chang says companies like LGI need people with many different kinds of skills.

He says it’s important to know that scientists are not necessarily limited to working in a lab. His scientific background helped him sell Proliant’s products, but he has learned business skills along the way.

“What is most important is the learning mind,” Chang says.


The following awards are conferred at the ISUAA Honors and Awards Ceremony at Homecoming each fall. The 2013 Honors and Awards Ceremony, Nov. 8, marked the 82nd year of the event.
Outstanding Young Alumni Award by the ISU Alumni Association

  • Matthew Leu (’99 animal science, MBA ’07), Pewaukee, Wis.
  • Catherine Swoboda, (’08 agronomy, MS ’10 crop production and physiology), Des Moines, Iowa

Floyd Andre Award by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

  • David Morrison (’69 food technology, ’71 MS chemical engineering), Paradise Valley, Ariz.

Henry A. Wallace Award by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

  • Jim Blome (’85 agronomy and pest management), Raleigh, N.C.

George Washington Carver Distinguished Service Award by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

  • Jon E. Kinzenbaw, Williamsburg, Iowa

Superior Achievement Award for Early or Mid-Career Alumni by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

  • Sarah A. Low (’02 public service and administration in agriculture), Arlington, Va.

Andrew Lauver (’12 agricultural studies), a Frank Ross International Business Intern at DuPont Pioneer, was presented with Seed World Magazine’s 2013 Future Giant of the Seed Industry award at the American Seed Trade Association’s (ASTA) annual convention in June. Lauver was also nominated to serve on ASTA’s Seed Foundation Board.

Dick Arnold (’52 farm operations, PhD ’63 agronomy) received the 2013 Lomonosov Gold Medal from the Russian Academy of Sciences in recognition of more than 30 years of domestic and international work teaching about soil formation, erosion and conservation. Arnold worked for the U.S. Soil Conservation Service and through the U.S. Agency for International Development he worked with underdeveloped countries to expand the knowledge of soils.


Garren Benson (’71 PhD agronomy), died May 25. Benson served as an ISU Extension agronomist, specializing in corn and soybean production from 1964 until his retirement in 1996. He remained on the faculty in the agronomy department until 1999.

Roger Mitchell (’54 agronomy, ’61 PhD crop physiology) died June 4 after a prolonged illness with leukemia. Mitchell was director of the farm operations curriculum at ISU in the 1960s and led agriculture travel courses in the United States and Europe. He served as chair of agronomy at the University of Missouri, dean of University of Missouri Extension and vice president for agriculture at Kansas State University. From 1983 until his retirement in 1998, Mitchell served as dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at the University of Missouri.

Kenneth Frey, distinguished professor emeritus in agronomy, died July 14. Frey served on the faculty for 40 years and was recognized both nationally and internationally as a plant breeder. In 2007, ISU established the Kenneth
Frey Endowed Chair in Agronomy, currently held by Thomas Lubberstedt.

Rich Robson (’64 animal science, ’66 MS biochemistry, ’69 PhD) died on Aug. 4. Robson served for more than 30 years as a professor in the departments of animal science and Roy J. Carver biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology.

Thomas Wickersham (’41 animal science, ’54 MS) died Aug. 12. Wickersham was an emeritus professor of animal science at Iowa State University where he began teaching in 1950. He also served as an ISU Extension agent and sheep field specialist for many years.

Dick Thompson (’53 animal science, ’57 MS) died on Aug. 17. Thompson was a co-founder of Practical Farmers of Iowa. He was honored by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture with the 2004 Spencer Award for Sustainable Agriculture.

The American Meat Science Association (AMSA) announced that Rodrigo Tarté is the recipient of the 2013 AMSA Meat Processing Award. The award, established in 1977, is sponsored by Smithfield Foods. Tarté (’87 food technology, ’90 MS, ’96 PhD food science and human nutrition and animal science) was honored at a special reception and awards banquet at the AMSA 66th Reciprocal Meat Conference in June.


By Haley Cook

Katherine Hickman (’10 food science) is a quality assurance specialist for Advanced Analytical Technologies in the Iowa State University Research Park.

Katherine Hickman (’10 food science) is a quality assurance specialist for Advanced Analytical Technologies in the Iowa State University Research Park.

Whether donning an apron to create delicious confections, or safety glasses to test the inner workings of scientific instruments, Katherine Hickman’s goal is the same— to ensure quality excellence.

By day, Katherine (Kleinwort) Hickman (’10 food science) is a quality assurance specialist for Advanced Analytical Technologies in the Iowa State University Research Park. By night, she helps prepare Ames Cupcake Emporium for battle on the national television stage on The Food Network show Cupcake Wars.

Hickman, a native of St. Ansgar, Iowa, began her journey at Iowa State University in 2007 after receiving her pastry and baking degree from Le Cordon Bleu College in Minneapolis, Minn. An avid baker since childhood, Hickman enjoyed the challenge of baking, “It’s chemistry at work,” she says. “If even one thing is slightly off the entire outcome is affected.”

In 2010, Hickman visited the newly opened Ames Cupcake Emporium, met owner Tawnya Zerr and created a lasting friendship and partnership.

According to Zerr, Hickman’s aptitude in the kitchen and knowledge of food science made her the obvious choice to help as the assistant baker on Cupcake Wars. “She’s great,” says Zerr. “She knows her way around a kitchen, and can problem solve.”

“Biology, chemistry, food science and quality are all things I learned in college,” says Hickman. “Ingredient interaction and quality control were especially helpful with Cupcake Wars.”

Those same skills led Hickman to her chosen career in quality assurance.

Advanced Analytical Technologies manufactures and sells an analytical instrument called the fragment analyzer. It is used by researchers in hospitals, museums and agricultural companies around the world to simultaneously measure the size and amount of DNA and RNA in samples. Samples can be used for a variety of research such as analyzing properties of DNA in seed corn.

Hickman describes the process, on a macro scale, as similar to sorting vegetables in a basket—vegetables are separated from one another and the quantity of each is determined.

“Iowa State owns two of our instruments for research in food science and human nutrition and molecular biology,” Hickman says. “And our machines are on six of the seven continents.” Hickman has enjoyed reconnecting with one of her favorite food science and human nutrition professors, Lester Wilson.

“I noticed the viscosity of the gel in one of our machines wasn’t correct; the DNA wasn’t being separated correctly,” she says. “We worked together to determine the correct viscosity of the gel, and develop new specifications for the product.”

Katherine Hickman teamed up with Tawnya Zerr (left) of Ames Cupcake Emporium for battle on the Food Network show Cupcake Wars for two appearances. Hickman, a quality assurance professional and food science grad, helped launch the team to the final round in their most recent appearance.


By Melea Reicks Licht

Laynnea Jones, manager of quality, safety, health and environment works to make safety education fun and effective for L’Oreal employees.

Laynnea Jones, manager of quality, safety, health and environment works to make safety education fun and effective for L’Oreal employees.

Laynnea Jones smiles. One of her students, a distribution employee for L’Oreal, waves his hand to claim his prize. Jones knows that along with his prize he’ll take home more knowledge of safety rules and procedures that could save his life or prevent serious injury.

Jones (’04 industrial technology) is a manager of quality, safety, health and environment for L’Oreal—the world’s largest cosmetics and beauty company. Bingo is just one method she uses to make safety training fun at the distribution and assembly facility in Cranbury, N.J.

“My job is to engage employees of various backgrounds, educational levels and some for whom English is a second language in learning safety policies and procedures. Safety education can be difficult because of the complexity of regulations. Employees need to learn while having fun, but also take it seriously,” she says.

Jones also serves on an audit team for L’Oreal. She reviews the health, safety and quality compliance of the company’s distribution and manufacturing centers across the United States.

“We look for compliance to local, federal, state and L’Oreal standards, which are often the most stringent. We look at fire safety codes, eye wash stations compliance, housekeeping, safety validations and training programs in place,” she says. “Our visit prepares sites for third party safety audits and certifications and ensures they meet OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requirements.”

Jones’ colleague, Jay Harf, says she maintains an impressive record of success.

“Her efforts resulted in nearly two years without a lost time accident as well as leading the site to the prestigious OHSAS 18001 International Safety Management Certification,” says Harf, assistant vice president of environment health and safety.

Setting records has always been a motivator for Jones, who attended Iowa State University on a full track scholarship. Despite being sidelined by injury, the New Jersey native lettered in track and remembers the kindness and “slow pace” of Iowa fondly.

“I never knew tailgating until I came to Iowa State University. And I’ll never forget storming the field after winning the Iowa (football) game. That probably wasn’t very safe,” she jokes.

She found the industrial technology major and emphasis in occupational safety and health in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences a perfect fit for her outgoing personality, interest in engineering and science and desire for hands-on experience.

Jones serves as secretary of her state chapter of the American Society of Safety Engineers and on a task force to charter student membership. She believes mentorship is key to success and is especially involved in Blacks in Safety Engineering and Women in Safety Engineering.

She is certified by the Board of Certified Safety Professionals as an Associate Safety Professional and is studying to become a Certified Safety Professional—the most prestigious Safety certification in the United States.

Jones says, “My motto is safety is not a destination, but a journey of continuous improvement. That can be true for any industry.”


By Lynn Laws

Delise Lockett received her master’s in 2012 researching the use of prairie within an agricultural system. Here she samples the ability of soil to absorb and hold moisture at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge.

Delise Lockett received her master’s in 2012 researching the use of prairie within an agricultural system. Here she samples the ability of soil to absorb and hold moisture at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge.

Iowa State faculty have been developing win-win management strategies for natural resource managers and agricultural landowners since offering the first forestry course in 1874.

Paul Errington’s work from the 1930s is still having impact today. Errington began his career at Iowa State in 1932 as assistant professor of zoology and director of the nation’s first Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit. He was known, along with Aldo Leopold, as one of the great pioneers in animal ecology.

One strategy he encouraged landowners to adopt is still encouraged—the conservation of natural areas for wildlife habitat and income through hunting and trapping or leasing those rights. Errington is best known for his research and writing that transformed the popular view of predators in the wild from noxious to necessary as part of the balance of nature.

Julie Blanchong, associate professor and wildlife disease ecologist, is one of 20-plus faculty members in the Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management (NREM) currently carrying on the legacy of Errington and others before her.

“I have a variety of research projects across a variety of species, including white- tailed deer, bald eagles and bats, all because they address a practical problem right now,” says Blanchong.

Her expertise is in applying genetics to help natural resource managers anticipate, slow and stop the spread of diseases among wildlife in Iowa. “I use genetics to infer connectivity or dispersal rates across the landscape,” she says. “For example, how deer move and potentially bring disease into highly agricultural areas versus highly forested landscapes.”

White nose syndrome is a disease devastating bat populations in mostly eastern states, but it is spreading west. Iowa has detected the fungus that causes the disease on one bat, but has no evidence of negative effects yet. Bats are natural crop pest control agents that, if eliminated, would increase the pressure to use pesticides. Blanchong is taking advantage of the fact that bats echo- locate, using sounds that humans can hear only with special equipment, to establish baseline population information.

“If we don’t have a baseline and bad things start to happen and bats start disappearing, we won’t know it. And we won’t know where to prioritize our surveillance efforts to try to help them out,” she says.

Blanchong’s NREM colleague John Tyndall has broad interests in natural resource economics, policy and sociology within forestry and agriculture. In addition to studying the viability of using woody biomass for electricity generation, Tyndall is working with a team of scientists on a project that integrates strips of prairie grasses within row crops to reduce the transport of sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus into nearby streams.

“My role as an economist is looking at the pragmatic side: how much does it cost to implement, manage and what are opportunity costs?” says Tyndall. “So far, on the biophysical side, the results are really incredible. For example, we’ve seen more than 90 percent reduction in sedimentation—the movement of eroded materials off of those basins. From an economic stand- point, the bottom line is this is a relatively inexpensive system to use and comparable to other best management practices.”

Another area of interest to wildlife managers and agricultural landowners are impacts on wildlife habitat on farms that reap Iowa’s alternative cash crop—wind. As a NREM department graduate student, Molly Gillespie recently completed a study of how certain common Iowa bird species use or avoid wind farms as habitat. The study showed evidence of attraction to the altered habitat by some species, avoidance by others and no real avoidance or attraction behavior in most. Killdeer was one of the species found to be attracted to wind farms. The Killdeer is a sandpiper that needs gravel and sand for nesting.

“They were found nesting on the gravel pads under the turbines and on the access roads,” says Stephen Dinsmore, NREM associate professor, who oversaw Gillespie’s study. “Access roads and gravel pads that surround the turbine are created in abundance when creating a wind farm. But the access roads, unlike the surrounding county roads, are not heavily traveled. Killdeer sometimes try to nest on gravel county roads, but the results are often devastating to the nests and the birds.”

Sue Blodgett, NREM department chair, carries a vision for future contributions to natural resource management concerns and challenges in Iowa.

“Iowa’s leadership position as an agricultural state brings with it increased public scrutiny of the impacts of agricultural practices on its natural resources,” Blodgett says. “Our research answers the tough questions and provides natural resource management tools for land- owners and policy makers. We will tackle future challenges, such as climate change—to assess the impacts and offer new and innovative management practices in response.”


By Lynn Laws

Mike Knipper, a farmer in Dubuque County, discusses survey questions with Iowa State Extension Specialist Chad Ingels. The survey was developed by J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr., and colleagues, to gather data about agricultural practices that could make row-crop agriculture more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Mike Knipper, a farmer in Dubuque County, discusses survey questions with Iowa State Extension Specialist Chad Ingels. The survey was developed by J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr., and colleagues, to gather data about agricultural practices that could make row-crop agriculture more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

In the early 1940s the nation was embroiled in a World War and recovering from the Great Depres­sion and a prolonged, devastating drought. Several years before, a new innovation hit the market shown in field trials to increase corn yields by 20 percent or more and to resist drought. It was hybrid corn, developed commercially by Iowa State alum Henry A. Wallace (’10 animal science, MS ’20).

Adoption of this new technology, while slow at first, was complete throughout Iowa by 1942, within approximately 13 years of its commercial release. This rapid adoption of an agricultural technology captured the attention of Iowa State Sociology Professor Bryce Ryan and administrators of the Iowa Agricultural Experiment Station.

In 1942, the Experiment Station funded a study by Ryan in order to better understand diffusion of innovation to aid adoption of future farm innovations.

Adoption and Diffusion

For the study, Ryan created a rural survey and charged his research assistant, Neal C. Gross, with the task of interviewing 300 farmers in the Iowa communities of Scranton and Grand Junction regarding their adoption of hybrid corn.

Ryan’s interview methodology and his published results became a model for studying and understanding what influences an individual’s decision to adopt a new technology and how adoption spreads among a population. The framework that emerged from his study emphasized “knowledge bringers,” self-experimentation, opinion leaders and interpersonal communications as influences to adoption and diffusion.

Since Ryan’s study, thousands of similar diffusion studies and papers have been published, each reinforcing and building on his seminal theories. Everett Rogers, who participated in rural soci­ology graduate studies under Iowa State Professor George Beal, is known for popularizing Ryan’s theories with his book, “Diffusion of Innovations,” which was published in 1962 and continues to influence sociological research.

Factoring in outside factors

Today, J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr. and his colleagues in Iowa State’s sociology department research conservation practice adoption, “much of which is rooted strongly in the adoption diffusion tradition,” says Arbuckle.

Arbuckle is an associate professor of rural sociology and is the co-director of the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll, an annual survey of Iowa farmers, popularly known as “The Farm Poll.”

“A difference today is we are trying to expand our research to account for the influence of institutions, such as farm policy, markets, and other actors and forces that may serve as facilitators or barriers to the adoption of a technology.

Another difference is researchers now examine the environmental and social consequences of the adoption of agricultural innovations—there’s a concern for long-term consequences and benefits, in addition to the short-term,” he says. “The Farm Poll is a valuable tool for helping stakeholders gain insight into farmer perspectives on agricultural issues,” says Arbuckle. “Every year I work with agricultural scientists and agency staff to develop questions for the survey.”

In 2013, for example, Arbuckle worked with agronomy and entomology faculty to develop questions about herbicide resistant weeds and Bt-resistant corn rootworm.

“These are pressing problems in the state,” Arbuckle says, “The information we gather on farmer knowledge, concerns, and current behaviors can help to guide extension and outreach programming on such issues.”

Searching for the missing pieces

Arbuckle recently looked into the adoption of Iowa’s Clean Water State  Revolving Fund—low interest loans available to help farmers fund conservation practices to reduce runoff. In 2007, state program administrators, concerned the program was underutilized, asked Arbuckle and colleagues to help them find out why.

The study included focus groups with field staff responsible for implementing the loan programs. Findings showed loan recipients were highly satisfied with the loans, but many field staff had not learned enough about the programs to adequately promote them. The research helped state administrators remove adoption barriers for field staff and farmers. As a result, Iowa farmers have obtained millions of dollars for needed conservation efforts.

Arbuckle says his ability to develop adoption-diffusion-related questions for the Farm Poll is enhanced by collaborations with key personnel at the Iowa Departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Farm Bureau, Iowa Legislature and mass media.

“My work is always a piece of a larger puzzle,” says Arbuckle. “I never have all the answers, but I like to think it helps people who make decisions to make better decisions that serve the needs of agricultural communities.”


By Barbara McBreen

Celize Christy, a junior in animal science, helped students in the George Washington Carver Internship program feel at home while at Iowa State University including at this research poster presentation.

Celize Christy, a junior in animal science, helped students in the George Washington Carver Internship program feel at home while at Iowa State University including at this research poster presentation.







This summer Celize Christy helped students from across the United States follow in the footsteps of George Washington Carver as they explored agricultural science in research labs at Iowa State University.

For eight weeks Christy, a native of Dallas, worked with Theressa Cooper, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences assistant dean for diversity, to coordinate the program.

“I was asked to assist with the programand it fit with what I wanted to do,” Christy says. “It was fun to watch these young adults learn together and connect as friends.”

Christy says she was looking for a professional position for the summer and Dean Wendy Wintersteen helped connect Christy with Cooper.

“She is so personable and offered valuable guidance,” Christy says of Cooper. “She shared her experiences and helped me move ahead and grow.”

As the coordinator for the George Washington Carver Internship Program, Christy, a junior in animal science, helped manage 13 high school and 22 college students. The program, which is sponsored by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, introduces students to various areas of research. Seven of the students are part of the Science Bound program at Iowa State that recently received a grant from DuPont Pioneer. Cooper says Christy was a valuable asset this summer.

“She was engaging, pleasant and humorous, which helped the interns feel like they were part of the Iowa State community,” Cooper says.

Careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) will increase 17 percent through 2018 according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Cooper says the internship program bridges the gap between access and opportunity for multicultural populations.

The 2013 summer class was the second largest class of interns since the program started in 1997. The students were mainly from Iowa, but also included students from Puerto Rico, Texas, Illinois and Alabama. Since the start of the program faculty have mentored more than 300 interns.

From getting nightly updates about their daily experiences to hosting students at a barbecue, Christy says coordinating the program was an eye-opening experience.

“Some of the students were in programs they hadn’t thought about exploring and it opened their eyes,” Christy says. “Three students had just graduated and decided to go to Iowa State to pursue their master’s degree because of this experience.”

For Ellen Tisdale the internship provided more than a summer experience. Tisdale, who is now a graduate student with a research assistantship in genetics, says she was introduced to a caring community that encouraged her to pursue a graduate degree.

“When I got to Iowa State, I met some extremely wonderful and helpful people,” the interns in any way possible and often went out of her way to make sure we were ok.”

While she was introducing interns to campus, Christy says she also was learning more about the college.

“I met several professors and mentors and I learned from them about how they successfully pursued their careers,” Christy says.

Next summer Christy plans to study abroad and has applied for the college’s Service Learning Program in Uganda. She has been accepted into the Agricultural and Life Sciences student ambassador program. She hopes to work in international rural development after she graduates.


Meet the 2013 George Washington Carver Interns in this video


Although the exact year and date of George Washington Carver’s birth is unknown, most historians believe he was most likely born in 1864. That’s 150 years worth celebrating.

In 2014, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will honor Carver for his many scientific discoveries, achievements and his contributions to the social justice and civil rights movements. “Celebrating the Life and Legacy of George Washington Carver” events during the year will include a lecture series, seminars, student research opportunities, food tastings, displays and artistic performances.

Carver was the first African American to enroll at Iowa State in 1891. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1894, his master’s in 1896 and then became the first African American faculty member at Iowa State. As one of our most distinguished alumni, Carver went on to become a brilliant scientist and educator at the Tuskegee Institute, helping farmers with ideas he worked on when he was a student and faculty member at Iowa State. His research changed how we look at crops. His life and teaching continue to inspire millions.


By Susan Thompson

Jianming Yu (left), Pioneer Distinguished Chair in Maize Breeding, and Asheesh “Danny” Singh Monsanto Chair in Soybean Breeding, joined the faculty at Iowa State University in 2013. Together with Iowa Corn Promotion Board Endowed Chair in Genetics Patrick Schnable, they are extending a long tradition of excellence in plant breeding.

Jianming Yu (left), Pioneer Distinguished Chair in Maize Breeding, and Asheesh “Danny” Singh Monsanto Chair in Soybean Breeding, joined the faculty at Iowa State University in 2013. Together with Iowa Corn Promotion Board Endowed Chair in Genetics Patrick Schnable, they are extending a long tradition of excellence in plant breeding.

Agronomy researchers are using the latest in genomic technology to usher in a new era of plant breeding in a department known for making revolutionary breakthroughs for more than 90 years.

Jianming Yu, associate professor and corn breeding specialist, and Asheesh “Danny” Singh, an assistant professor and soybean breeding expert, joined the agronomy department in 2013.

Kendall Lamkey, agronomy department chair, said the addition of Yu and Singh extends a long tradition of excellence in plant breeding.

“Dr. Yu is one of the top quantitative geneticists in the world and we look forward to the contributions he will continue to make to public and private plant breeding programs,” he says. “Dr. Singh is an outstanding plant breeder who will expand our soybean research capabilities, as well as support the preparation of students for successful careers in agriculture.”

DuPont Pioneer provided the funding for Yu’s position as the Pioneer Distinguished Chair in Maize Breeding.

Yu, who arrived on campus in January, previously worked at Kansas State, studying plant-breeding methods, quantitative genetics and genomics. He earned a bachelor’s degree in agronomy at Northwestern Agricultural University in China, a master’s in plant breeding and genetics from Kansas State, and a doctorate in plant breeding and genetics from the University of Minnesota.

The job description for the position Yu now holds guides his work—“to combine maize breeding with cutting-edge genomic technologies to address significant questions in quantitative genetics, and to develop and improve contemporary breeding methods.”

“To some, this may sound intangible. But to me, it means my team needs to conduct research with great impact, we need to address questions with significance, and our work needs to be original,” he says.

“We saw in 2013 what a cold, rainy spring can do to corn plants, and how much damage a dry, hot summer can have on corn production,” Yu says. “New discoveries will address these types of issues.”

Yu’s teaching duties include courses in plant breeding and genetics. The endowed Pioneer Distinguished Chair in Maize Breeding fund makes it possible for him to host special seminar events, where graduate students can meet with the guest speakers, introduce their own research and ask research and career development questions of experts.

Singh, a Canadian plant breeder, began work in April as the new Monsanto Chair in Soybean Breeding at Iowa State. Previously a research scientist and wheat breeder at the Semiarid Prairie Agricultural Research Centre of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Singh says Iowa State is a world-leading university at the forefront of agriculture research and plant breeding.

“Soybean breeding at Iowa State is well known,” he says. “Soybean is an extremely important crop to Iowa’s production systems, and the uniqueness of the plant and its multiple uses drew me to soybean breeding.”

Singh earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and animal husbandry from G.B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology in India, a master’s in plant breeding and genetics from the University of Saskatchewan, and a doctorate in plant breeding and genetics from the University of Guelph.

Iowa State plant breeding research, with long-standing support of Iowa’s soybean growers, already has led to the development of soybeans with improved yield, disease and insect resistance. Singh plans to build on that progress.

“Our team is working on developing superior packages for farmers for increased productivity and better weed and pest management, as well as improved health profile in our cultivars,” he says.

Singh has two goals—farmers and industry making money from his team’s inventions and training students to become the next generation of plant breeders in private and public institutions.

In September, Iowa State University announced an investment from the Iowa Corn Promotion Board to establish the Iowa Corn Promotion Board Endowed Chair in Genetics. Patrick Schnable, a Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor in Agriculture and Life Sciences, a professor of agronomy and director of Iowa State’s Center for Plant Genomics is the first to hold the chair.

“Big picture, Iowa Corn is launching an industry-wide initiative to develop functional genomic information,” says Bob Bowman, a farmer from DeWitt and president of the Iowa Corn Promotion Board. “We are investing additional funds with Dr. Schnable and researchers at other universities to develop a new public-private collaboration to accomplish this goal. This $2 million investment in both the endowment and functional genomics demonstrates our commitment to this important area of research for Iowa farmers.”

Bowman added, “Iowa Corn has a proud history of working with Dr. Pat Schnable, Iowa State and a coalition of other partners to produce the first sequence of the corn genome.”

Schnable, who has been an Iowa State faculty member since 1988, has led wide-ranging research investigations of the corn genome and has developed a significant number of important genomic tools and resources.

Schnable is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, serves as an associate editor for the PLoS Genetics journal and is chair of the American Society of Plant Biology’s Science Policy Committee.

He is a ChangJiang Scholar Professor at China Agriculture University in Beijing. Schnable received his bachelor’s degree from Cornell University and earned his doctorate in plant breeding and genetics from Iowa State. Prior to joining the ISU faculty, Schnable conducted research at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding in Germany.

Read Schnable’s thoughts on the role of “Big Data” in plant genomicsin here:


There was a push in the early part of the 20th Century to grow more corn for livestock feed. The number of corn acres increased, but the open-pollinated varieties grown at the time were low yielding.

A national effort to increase corn yields began in 1922 when state Agriculture Experiment Stations and the U.S. Department of Agriculture joined forces. That’s when Iowa State University’s breeding program began.

A team of USDA and ISU scientists devel­oped the B73 line of hybrid corn in the 1970s and 1980s. It remains the basis for nearly all the seed-parent lines of corn used in the United States and throughout the temperate areas of the world.

Another major product of the breeding program was the free release of more than 30 inbred lines from the USDA-Iowa State breeding program.


By Brain Meyer

Dan Nettleton, the Laurence H. Baker Endowed Chair in Biological Statistics and professor of statistics, and colleagues help scientists achieve research goals using bigger data sets than ever before.

Dan Nettleton, the Laurence H. Baker Endowed Chair in Biological Statistics and professor of statistics, and colleagues help scientists achieve research goals using bigger data sets than ever before.

The truth is out there, like fish waiting to be seined from a rising sea of scientific data. A key person casting the net is a statistician.

Not long ago, tracking one gene at a time was progress. Now scientists’ ability to collect and measure genetic data in agriculture has exploded. Data from tens of thousands of genes flow in simultaneously. Cutting-edge technologies allow scientists to peer under the hood of plants, animals and other organisms to understand what’s going on biologically and how genes function under different scenarios.

“Now the question is: How do we extract meaningful insights from these enormous datasets?” says Dan Nettleton, the Laurence H. Baker Endowed Chair in Biological Statistics and professor of statistics.

Nettleton, who collaborates with many teams of Iowa State agricultural scientists, says statisticians help to get at the truth by quantifying uncertainty. “Statisticians help to determine which explanations of the underlying reality are the most plausible based on the observed data. We work to help answer—as clearly as the data allow— the questions scientists pose.”

In his own research, Nettleton develops new, innovative ways to analyze data to help scientists draw better conclusions. Statistical methodology helps pan for gold in the sea of data, sorting out differences that are truly meaningful from those that are just due to chance variation. But all that glitters is not gold. Some data may appear pan-worthy, but may not necessarily be repeatable or scientifically meaningful.

“When you’re testing thousands of hypotheses, we need to make decisions on what results are truly worth our interest,” Nettleton says. “We want to control the proportion of results that are just artifacts of the fact you have loads of data.”

Statisticians—from the design of experiments to the analysis of data—help scientists get closer to useful truths, he says. “With all this data, we hope to make progress more quickly in developing soybeans that are more resistant to pathogens, corn that holds up better in drought or pigs that more efficiently use the feed they’re given.”

Historically, Iowa State has been a national leader in making statistics integral to agricultural research. In 1933, the Statistical Laboratory was the first of its kind. In 1935, the Experiment Station formed a statistical section, led by pioneer George Snedecor, to strengthen the marriage of statistics and agricultural research. The Experiment Station has supported statistics ever since.

Nettleton tries to quantify the uncertainty of future research. “Statistics must play a core role in the ‘Big Data’ era to develop new ways to analyze huge datasets. It’s not just about finding one needle in a haystack. We hope many needles are waiting to be discovered.”



By Lynn Laws

Cheryl Morris, assistant professor of comparative animal nutrition, trains and handles dogs in agility competitions. Her rescue dog Karma won big at last year’s American Kennel Club’s National Agility Championships.

Cheryl Morris, assistant professor of comparative animal nutrition, trains and handles dogs in agility competitions. Her rescue dog Karma won big at last year’s American Kennel Club’s National Agility Championships.

It has been said dogs resemble their owners, at times both in appearance and personality.

Meet Cheryl Morris and her six-year-old Border collie, Karma, which she adopted as a puppy from a shelter, after it was rescued from a Walmart parking lot.

“Border collies have a superior intellect, combined with an intensity and obsessive zeal for working,” according to Michele Welton, dog trainer and breed expert. “They are sharp-eyed, quick-thinking and bred for endless miles of sprinting and stop-and-go action.”

“That description fits Karma perfectly,” says Morris. And she admits her husband would fondly attest that it fits her as well. “My husband would crack up at that description. He tells me frequently I’m obsessive about what I do and I have to do everything full out.”

In addition to working out at the local gym, Morris owns and exercises six dogs. “This time of year is heavy training. Each dog is trained three to five times a week. My training sessions are typically very short, anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes per dog. They are run together around the property playing ball for at least 30 minutes each morning and again in each evening in addition to their training.”

Regarding work, Morris says, “I’m technically on a nine-month appointment at Iowa State, but when you are developing new courses it takes more than 40 hours per week. My Omaha zoo appointment is equivalent to quarter-time. However, animals don’t fit their diets into just summer months. So it ends up being about 20 hours per month on average.”

Whether in training or in competitions, Morris mirrors Karma’s energy, fitness and zeal for agility. Their partnership led to a big win at the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) National Agility Championships held in Tulsa, Okla., in March. There Morris and Karma beat out professional handlers, including AKC World team members, to take the championship in Karma’s height category. Morris was “over the moon.”

“To go out and compete against that level, with a dog that was found in a Walmart parking lot and ended up in a shelter—it was amazing. I cried all the way home from Tulsa.”

Karma and Morris competed in all four tournaments at the United States Dog Agility Association Cynosport World Games in October. They brought home a second place finish in the Snooker event, which Morriss describes as “a strategy game similar to a brain teaser at a high rate of speed.”

“Karma is just a quirky little dog. She’s so typical Border collie. She’s fun and she makes me laugh. She’s just a really lovable dog, but it takes her a long time to warm up to people—kind of like I do,” says Morris.


The renovated office suite of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Career Services was dedicated Aug. 31 in honor Roger Bruene (’56 agronomy), the former director. A group of alumni, including Roger Underwood (’80 agricultural business), led a fundraising initiative to raise funds to name the offices on the ground floor of Curtiss Hall. Bruene is pictured with Underwood and Dean Wendy Wintersteen at the dedication. The hour-long ceremony is available to view on YouTube.

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa Department of Natural Resources and Iowa State University recently released the updated Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy is a science and technology-based approach to assess and reduce nutrients delivered to Iowa waterways and the Gulf of Mexico. The strategy is designed to direct efforts to reduce nutrients in surface water from both point sources, such as wastewater treatment plants and industrial facilities, and nonpoint sources, including farm fields and urban areas, in a scientific, reasonable and cost effective manner. More

Advances in soil science necessitated an update in the Corn Suitability Rating (CSR), a system for rating the crop-growing productivity of Iowa soil. Originally established in 1971, the CSR was created in response to county assessors who needed a measure to help assess the productivity of farmland. Today, the CSR is used in many additional ways, including developing land use plans, determining land values, predicting yields and negotiating cash rents. More


1,250 pounds of cooked bacon
1,076 attendees
248 days of preparation
100 pounds of bacon donated to a local food pantry
60 student organizers
16 student organizations participated
9 vendors: 3 restaurants and 6 companies or organizations
3 title sponsors: Iowa Select Farms, Elanco, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
1 motto: Life, liberty and the pursuit of bacon

See photos and video


By Kristin Senty

Economist Ron Deiter is known for helping students develop the skills necessary to successfully enter the work force through his efforts in the classroom and advising the Agricultural Business Club.

Economist Ron Deiter is known for helping students develop the skills necessary to successfully enter the work force through his efforts in the classroom and advising the Agricultural Business Club.

Not currently involved in research, or extension and outreach activities, Ron Deiter is the first to admit he’s “not your typical ag economics professor.” Yet he plays a key role in developing Iowa State’s most significant output—students.

With responsibilities in undergraduate teaching, advising and administration, Deiter’s day-to-day mirrors what he learned as an undergrad: a teacher with a focus on the growth and development of students can affect their outcomes in some pretty significant ways.

That idea was shaped years ago when Deiter was an undergrad studying agricultural economics at the University of Wisconsin in Platteville just 10 miles from the small dairy operation his family farmed.

An internship with the Statistics Reporting Service interviewing farmers about yield estimates taught him about bridging gaps by making connections. “One potato farmer wouldn’t cooperate with me,” he says. “We were both Green Bay Packers fans so I developed a relationship with him around that. He finally agreed to participate in the survey.”

As the Wisconsin FFA president his freshman year in college, Deiter spent considerable time traveling the state and giving talks to high school students about the importance of developing leadership skills. He knew he liked working with students, and realized he could relate to them as a mentor.

He was especially influenced by the example set by his professors. “They showed me they were prepared, organized and personable. I admired these things in my teachers and wanted to emulate them,” he says. “It seemed like a natural calling for me to help others learn.”

Deiter went on to graduate school at the University of Illinois, earning a doctorate in 1979 in agricultural economics. He came to Iowa State the same year, shifting his focus by the mid-1980s from research and teaching to a sole teaching and advising appointment. Says Deiter, “I felt I would have more of an impact on people’s lives by teaching and advising—to impact a person is very important.”

He enjoys teaching microeconomics, agricultural sales and sports economics, a class he developed in recent years which incorporates his love of sports. He continuesto write articles on teaching pedagogy, and in 2001 won the EB Knight Outstanding Journal Article Award from the National Association of Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture for an article on the use of humor as a teaching tool in the classroom.

Deiter devotes a great deal of time and attention to serving as Ag Business Club co-adviser. The club has earned a reputation as one of the top in the nation—an achievement he’s “most proud of.” While the club has won numerous awards, including a seven-year run as outstanding club by the Agricultural and Applied Economic Association, its impact on individual students is what Deiter emphasizes.

Over the years he’s received notes and emails from parents sharing their appreciation for the positive impact involvement in the club had on their daughter or son and many alumni keep in touch with him.

Alumnus Kaci Demott (’12 agricultural business and international agriculture) is a former club officer who now works for Consolidated Grain and Barge out of Louisville, Ky., as an ag loan underwriter. She credits the club and Deiter with developing the skills she needed to effectively enter her career, and says “they’re the reasons why I came to Iowa State.”

“From his own personal experience, Professor Deiter really understands what it’s like for students who grew up in the industry. He’s passionate about the club and student needs,” she says. “Now that I work in the industry I can see how many people know and respect him. The role he plays is more than just a career—it’s what he really enjoys.”

“A teacher or an adviser can gain a lot of self-satisfaction knowing we’ve helped others get to where they want to go in life,” he says. “My work is very rewarding. It’s been a good ride that I’d do over in an instant.”


If Your Name is Lyric, It Helps to be Musical.

By Ed Adcock

Lyric Bartholomay checks a trap for test subjects. Her efforts coordinating Iowa’s mosquito and tick surveillance help ensure public heath and safety.

Lyric Bartholomay checks a trap for test subjects. Her efforts coordinating Iowa’s mosquito and tick surveillance help ensure public heath and safety.

Lyric Bartholomay, an associate professor of entomology, returned to music and singing a few years ago. She performs with a pop group called Echo 18 that includes two other agriculture and life sciences faculty.

“My stage name is on my birth certifi­cate,” she says.

She turned to singing because of her work. While going through the process to obtain tenure, Bartholomay realized her identity was dominated by work. Not wanting to wait until retirement “to have some of those enriching outside pursuits in my life,” she started voice lessons.

The creativity and passion that drives her performing and song-writing does the same for her research, teaching and outreach activities.

Bartholomay joined Iowa State in 2005 taking the place of Wayne Rowley, who was retiring. She “inherited” long-term mosquito and tick surveillance programs run by Rowley, and took on a molecular biology research program in a newly renovated lab. “It’s worked out beautifully,” she says.

She gets to teach—one of her great loves—do research she values and does outreach that is important to public health, including coordinating the state’s mosquito and tick surveillance efforts.

Entomology became something of a calling for the Colorado native. She was studying zoology at Colorado State University and took an entomology class taught by a charismatic professor.

“This class just captivated me,” Bartholomay says. She switched majors, but also was fascinated by microbiology and infectious diseases so medical ento­mology covered all her interests. Besides the bachelor’s degree in bioagricultural sciences and pest management from Colorado State, she earned a doctorate in comparative biomedical sciences and entomology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

As an undergrad she read about new genetically modified strategies to make malaria mosquitoes resistant to malaria parasites and other pathogens, and her studies took on an added dimension.

“I got into it for philanthropic reasons, too,” she says. “Insect-borne diseases, like malaria, kill millions and makeothers so sick they can’t function or contribute to society.”

Genetics might also have played a part. Her father, Barry Beaty, is an accomplished professor at Colorado State, doing work in the same field mosquito-borne diseases. Bartholomay even collaborates with him on a research project.

Together they are trying to find genes in the mosquito that are critical to its survival so the genes could be “turned off,” calling the process “molecular mosquitocide.” Funding for the project is from the National Institutes of Health.

“We certainly need ways to protect people chemically and by vaccines, but vector (insect) control is really important,” she says.

Insecticides can be effective, but kill more than the mosquitoes. Another disadvantage is resistance. The mosquitocide approach would allow researchers to target mosquitoes and might make resistance a nonissue.

State and federal funds for mosquito surveillance in Iowa have dried up after the flurry surrounding the discovery of West Nile virus. “It’s kind of a frustration because it’s such an important public health service that we provide and we have to struggle to fund it. The deans have been awesome in CALS because they recognize how important it is and have helped me out with a lot of support.”

Iowans who find ticks can send them into her office for identification and to see if it took any blood. The lab sends a note to tell them what tick they’ve been exposed to. Just one of three kinds of ticks in the state transmits Lyme disease, with most originating in northeast Iowa, although they are moving west.

There are about 150 cases a year of Lyme disease diagnosed in Iowa each year, she says, but the Centers for Disease Control believes the numbers are grossly underestimated.

An on-campus collaboration is taking her expertise in a new direction. Hank Harris, animal science professor, asked Bartholomay to speak to his medical microbiology class and discovered she was a “fantastic lecturer.”

“I told her if she got tired of killing mosquitoes, that we could work on vaccines for ‘mosquitoes in water,’” he says, referring to shrimp research at Harrisvaccines, the company he founded.

The shrimp-farming industry is looking for disease resistance and, like mosquitoes, they are arthropods, she says. “I think I’ve brought in some knowledge of physiology the shrimp industry was lacking.”

Of all her varied activities, Bartholomay calls teaching and mentoring students “great fun.” She enjoys hearing from them after they have gone on to graduate school and careers.

“I came into this thinking I would change the world with transgenic mosquitoes, but I hope I change the world by inspiring junior scientists to do great things.”


Producing healthier beef is the goal behind Iowa State University research that produced an Angus bull ranked first in the nation for marbling.

By Barbara McBreen

Kevin Maher

Kevin Maher, co-manager at the Iowa State McNay Memorial Research and Demonstration Farm, feeds the number-one Angus bull in the United States based on marbling.

The bull is one of 400 purebred Angus cattle at the Iowa State McNay Memorial Research and Demonstration Farm near Chariton, Iowa. Marbling is a trait found in prime and choice cuts of beef. Marbling produces tastier steaks consumers prefer.

The purpose of the Iowa State Angus herd is to provide research data to improve genetics, disease resistance and nutrition in beef cattle. Although very few animals are sold from the herd as breeding stock, both producers and consumers benefit from the new technology and information the research generates.

“Beef is a wonderful source of nutrients,” says James Reecy, professor of animal science and director of the Office of Biotechnology. “Consumers want healthy food and enhancing the nutritional value of beef will increase consumer demand and ensure continued growth of the beef industry.”

Iowa State’s beef cattle breeding project is led by Reecy and Dorian Garrick, Jay Lush Endowed Chair in Animal Breeding and Genetics. The researchers received a $250,000 Biosciences Initiative grant from the Iowa Legislature in July to collect genomic information on the entire herd.

“This will raise the research and industry profile of the Iowa State University breeding program because it will be the first purebred beef cattle herd in the United States to have the entire herd characterized with whole genome markers in addition to whole genome sequence on the sires and grandsires,” Garrick says. “This will be used to demonstrate animal breeding in the genomic era.”

The research will relate the animal’s genome to their measured performance across a wide range of traits from micro­nutrients to fatty acid composition to growth to carcass traits to disease resistance. Reecy says the project will allow Iowa State to demonstrate to Iowa producers how to implement and utilize genomic selection in beef cattle.

“The Iowa State research herd has been progressively moving toward genomic selection, which provides new opportunities for genetic improvement that will benefit industry, producers and consumers,” Reecy says.

The genotyping also will be valuable to collaborators in veterinary science working with animal diseases as well as animal scientists researching grazing behavior, nutrition and meat science.

Sharing knowledge to help Iowans succeed is a long tradition for Iowa’s only demonstration cattle farm. The farm introduced cattle producers to ultrasound 17 years ago.

At the time ultrasound technology was an advancement that moved the selection of breeding stock light years ahead of tradi­tional selection methods. The ultrasound technology determined body composition and muscle marbling of live beef cattle. Gene Rouse and Doyle Wilson, both Iowa State emeritus animal science professors, introduced the ultrasound technology pioneered with the McNay herd.

“The Iowa State beef cattle breeding project began with Iowa State animal scientists who used ultrasound as a selection tool,” says Mark Honeyman, who coordinates the Iowa State Research and Demonstration Farms. “Ultrasound was a breakthrough in the 1990s because it allowed researchers to measure marbling in live cattle.”

Fall calving and early weaning were also management practices pioneered at the farm. Honeyman says the benefits of the demonstration farm go beyond genetics and include research demonstrating grazing, housing, crops and forage updates.

The McNay Farm was established in 1956 as a gift from Harry and Winnie McNay. From 1956 to the 1970s the farm has been the site for beef cattle research, pasture management, tillage, hay storage, sheep production and beef cattle housing management.

The foundation for animal breeding and the Iowa State beef cattle began with Jay Lush. Lush was an Iowa State professor of animal science from 1930 to 1966. He combined management practices, genetics and statistics to formulate a new scientific foundation for livestock improvement.



As more genetic markers are identified in livestock, the challenge becomes tracking the genetic information. Iowa State University is a world leader in managing a web-accessible centralized data system —The Animal Quantitative Loci Trait (QTL) Database.

“The QTL database currently contains genomic information not only for beef cattle, but also dairy cattle, pigs, chickens, sheep and rainbow trout,” says James Reecy, professor of animal science and director of the Office of Biotechnology. “Our expectation is that over time additional species will come on-line.”

The database allows researchers around the world to access trait information to enhance and incorporate into their research. Reecy says the impact of the database is far-reaching. “No one would argue this resource is benefiting everyone in the world,” he says.


Max Rothschild, C.F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor in Agriculture at Iowa State University, recently concluded 20 years serving as coordinator of the U.S. Pig Genome Coordination Program, supported by the National Research Support Program. In the position he was instrumental in facilitating the international effort that sequenced the swine genome.

In 1993, the research arm of the USDA decided it would support cooperation and collaboration among genome scientists working with livestock and set up a competitive request to select coordinators for swine, cattle, sheep and horses.

The National Research Support Program funded the program, which included support from Iowa State. Every five years Rothschild was reappointed as it was renewed.

The program was renewed in September. Chris Tuggle, Iowa State University animal science professor, and Cathy Ernst, Michigan State University animal science professor, will serve as the new co-coordinators.


By Ed Adcock

Chris Tuggle, left, and Jack Dekkers study a line of pigs lacking an adaptive immune system. Their research has significant parallels to human health.

Chris Tuggle, left, and Jack Dekkers study a line of pigs lacking an adaptive immune system. Their research has significant parallels to human health.

A standard feed efficiency study on pigs at Iowa State University recently led to a startling discovery with implications for human health research. Scientists identified the first pigs with naturally occurring Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, known as SCID. The inherited disorder was known only to naturally affect humans, horses and dogs until this discovery.

Those born with SCID have no adaptive immune system, making them susceptible to infections. David Vetter, who had SCID was known as the “Bubble Boy,” in the 1970s for having to live in a sterile room to avoid germs.

Jack Dekkers, an animal science professor leading the SCID pig study, says the discovery came out of a feed efficiency study on pigs, a priority project for the pork industry because of the high cost of feed.

In the late 1990s, lines of pigs were selected for high and low feed efficiency leading to the current 10th generation of the lines. The more efficient pigs require about 12 percent less feed.

To test how the animals would respond to a “disease challenge,” pigs from each line were sent to a collaborator on a related project at Kansas State University. There they were to be inoculated with the PRRS virus, the costliest disease in pigs, and evaluated for an immune response.

“Four pigs from the efficient line died fairly early on, and when they did a necropsy they couldn’t find any of the major immune organs and they recognized it as SCID, which nobody had ever identified in pigs,” Dekkers says.

“Once we realized what it was, it was very exciting because it opened up a lot of opportunities,” he says.

Iowa State University researchers conduct many projects investigating human health concerns. Many of them use animals as models to research diseases including AIDS, muscular dystrophy, glaucoma and retinitis pigmentosa.

“Support of the Experiment Station allowed us to develop these lines of pigs, which in their own right are very important to be able to look at the genetics and physiology of feed efficiency,” he says. “But also, having access to those populations and studying them in such detail led to unexpected discoveries that could be even more valuable. It’s very costly maintaining these lines, but there can also be huge benefits.”

Already there has been some interest in the SCID pigs from cancer scientists, he says, and cardiovascular disease researchers are interested because human stem cells won’t be rejected since the animals don’t have an immune system to reject them.

SCID animals don’t have an adaptive immune system, making them a potential model for biomedical research. Transgenic SCID mice are used to grow cancer tumors.

Dekkers says the pig is a much better model than the mouse for many reasons. “One is just size, but also physiologically in terms of the function of the immune system. The pig is much more similar to humans. The results will be much more relevant to humans.”

Work with the SCID pigs has included injecting human tumor cells in the SCID pig’s ears. The fact that these cells were not rejected proved that the SCID pigs make a good cancer model for humans.

It’s challenging research in many ways. Although antibodies pass to the piglets from the sow as they nurse, the SCID pigs are susceptible to infections after weaning.

Animal scientist Chris Tuggle is working on giving a SCID pig a human immune system.

“If we could put a human immune system into these pigs then we could use the pig to more directly test pathogens that are important for humans and may not affect pigs,” he says. “That’s still at its very early stages.”

The future research opportunities offered by SCID pigs depends a lot on the work being done now. Dekkers said plans are to develop more data and apply for funding from the National Institutes of Health early next year.



When Dr. Matthew Ellinwood began working on the Mucopolysaccharidoses (MPS) and related diseases in 1998 there were very limited therapies for these rare genetic diseases that afflict children.

Now there are drug and enzyme therapies, approved or under evaluation, for five of them. And states are beginning to require neonatal tests for some of these disorders. The animal science professor and veterinarian is part of a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health that includes researchers at Harbor UCLA Medical Center, the University of Minnesota, Duke University and the University of Pennsylvania. The disease being studied is known as MPS I, and is caused by the lack of a key enzyme that breaks down substance the body needs to build nerves, bone, cartilage, tendons, corneas, skin and connective tissue.

The Iowa State role in the project involves using dogs with MPS I as a model to identify improved clinical measures of responses to therapy, which will help advance therapy for children.

“Discovering treatment and measurement of it in the dogs is important to get the enzyme to a point where it can be used to treat the neuro-degenerative disease in kids,” Dr. Ellinwood says.

FROM THE DEAN – Fall 2013

December 4, 2013 Letters No Comments

2449125 Breakthroughs

Most people know me as the dean of an Iowa State college that has roots going back 155 years.

Some may know less about the other title I hold, linked to an agricultural research program that has served Iowa for 125 years.

I am director of the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station. Sometimes it’s abbreviated to just Experiment Station. It’s 125 years old this year.

In 1888, Iowa approved the terms of the federal Hatch Act, establishing an experi­ment station at Iowa State. The Hatch Act offered federal aid for states to establish agricul­tural research stations linked to land-grant colleges. In every state, the act officiated a marriage of science and agriculture that promoted “scientific investigation and experiments respecting the principles and applications of agricul­tural science” and resulted in a progeny of scientific breakthroughs.

The Experiment Station is deeply woven into every aspect of how our college fulfills Iowa State’s mission. It makes possible vital infrastructure—people, facilities and programs—to meet Iowans’ needs and strengthen its most vital industry. It’s educa­tion and mentorship of students by some of the world’s leading agricultural scientists across many disciplines. It’s science-based information reaching every corner of the state through extension and outreach.

Today, the Experiment Station supports faculty researchers and scientific staff in more than two dozen departments and centers in our college. Also, the Experiment Station supports faculty in the College of Human Sciences who are conducting research on topics such as food safety, childhood obesity and the health and well-being of rural elderly. And campus-wide, the Experiment Station helps faculty through its support for high-tech research instrumentation facilities and biotechnology programs.

In all those ways, the Experiment Station truly embodies “Science With Practice.”

The Experiment Station sounds like a destination you could visit. Maybe that was true, back at the very beginning. The first Experiment Station director, R.P. Speer, led a small band of scientists (three, to be exact). To “visit” the Experiment Station today, you’d need to stop at many places on campus and around the state (including what I believe is the nation’s finest system of research and demonstration farms at 12 locations), plus you’d have to meet many people, teams and partners. To get a true sense of the Experiment Station, think of it as a diverse portfolio of people, places and programs working for the good of Iowa and the betterment of agriculture.

Please check out the Online Extra for links to 125 highlights of past Experiment Station achievements, a video about its legacy of research and a snapshot of current research.

But if there’s only four things you should know about the Experiment Station, or when you see the director title after my name, keep these in mind:

1. The Experiment Station is Iowa’s only public agricultural research program. The Experiment Station is critical to meeting the needs of the incredibly complex, ever-shifting biological system that is agriculture. Currently nearly 750 active research projects are tied to faculty and staff supported by the Experiment Station—research on plants, animals, natural resources, food and nutri­tion, energy, economics and much more. These resources make possible the work of 294 faculty and 380 staff.

2. Public investment in the Experiment Station yields results. Studies by econo­mists at Iowa State and Yale University found that the rate of return to society from publicly funded agricultural research is 50 percent and, in some newer studies, even higher—that’s a 50 percent real rate of return annually. It’s a reason why keeping Experiment Station funding reliable and growing keeps Iowa agriculture strong. That foundation is a springboard our scientists successfully leverage to win grants and contracts.

3. Experiment Station research is about today and tomorrow. The Experiment Station portfolio has breadth and depth— it’s short-term applied research that meets immediate problems and opportunities and it’s taking-the-long-view basic research that sets the table for future discoveries.

4. The Experiment Station supports economic development. A world-class Experiment Station, coupled with Iowa’s powerhouse agricultural productivity, are critical assets for the state’s economy. Increasingly, our economy depends on innovation, knowledge and technological advancement. Agricultural research supports those goals. In 2010, we tallied how many Iowa businesses, from entrepreneur to multinational, our scientists work with in a year’s time and it was over 300.

Thomas Jefferson believed agriculture to be the first in utility and should be the first in respect, and that it is “a science of the very first order.” That is still true today. Our Experiment Station represents science of the very first order making breakthroughs to strengthen a state of agriculture of the very first order.

Wendy Wintersteen

Endowed Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences


By Fred Love

Chuck and Margo Wood, supporters of the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods, connected with Becky Wokibula and provided her the support, both familial and financial, to complete her Master of Science in Agronomy via distance education at Iowa State. She’s now working to improve agricultural infrastructure, land management practices and market access in eastern Africa.

Chuck and Margo Wood, supporters of the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods, connected with Becky Wokibula and provided her the support, both familial and financial, to complete her Master of Science in Agronomy via distance education at Iowa State. She’s now working to improve agricultural infrastructure, land management practices and market access in eastern Africa.

Rebecca Wokibula, clad in cap and own, was ready for her master’s raduation ceremony. She was one among swarms of others posing in front of the Campanile, the Memorial Union and Lake LaVerne, their proud parents snapping pictures—except for one difference. For Wokibula, a native of Uganda, Graduation Day was only the second time she had set foot on the Iowa State campus.

Wokibula’s is a story of resilience, determination and family. But most of all, it’s a story of one woman’s journey to achieve her dreams and, in the process, bring life-altering innovations to small farmers in her home country.

Wokibula completed her degree through Iowa State’s Master of Science in Agronomy distance education program, which grants students wide latitude to finish coursework online at their own pace without having to sacrifice professional and family commitments.

Wokibula, the first student from beyond North America to complete the program, didn’t take the traditional route to her degree.

“It’s a dream come true,” Wokibula said during an interview in Agronomy Hall just hours before her graduation ceremony in May. “It’s something worth celebrating, and I’m very proud.”

An interest in agriculture

Orphaned as a young girl, Wokibula was raised by her siblings who were only a few years older. She later enrolled at Makerere University in Uganda where she studied land management and soil science.

Markere University partners with the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods to administer a service learning program that aims to bring together undergraduates from both schools to improve lives in Uganda through development projects.

Wokibula was among the first students to participate in the service learning program, and it served as her introduction to Iowa State University. She didn’t know it at the time, but her connection to Iowa State was just beginning.

A touch of grace, a new family

Chuck and Margo Wood, of St. George, Utah, met Wokibula in 2006 while the Woods accompanied a Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods delegation to Africa. The Woods were seated next to Wokibula during a banquet—a chance encounter that would change all their lives. “She was such a personable and loving person,” Margo Wood recalls. “She was so kind to us, and there was an immediate connection.”

Chuck Wood, who grew up in Spencer and graduated from Iowa State in 1963 with a degree in animal science, agreed.

“She impressed us immediately—her intelligence, her grace. We knew we would have to stay in contact with her,” he says.

After their initial meeting, Chuck and Margo kept tabs on Wokibula via email and over the phone. They even visited her in Uganda on a few occasions. When Wokibula told the Woods in 2007 that she was considering getting a master’s degree from Iowa State, she got their full support.

“We made her a deal,” Chuck says. “We would underwrite a major portion of the cost if she promised to use the education she received to help small farmers in Uganda.”

And that’s just what happened. She entered the Master of Science in Agronomy program in 2008. Chuck and Margo covered half the cost of Wokibula’s education, while the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods paid for much of the rest. Wokibula also earned the Virgil K. Webster Scholarship, a $1,000 award that covered two courses in fall 2008.

Blending life and academics

During the five years it took her to complete the program, Wokibula got married, gave birth to her daughter Emily and took on a full-time job working with Ugandan farmers to improve their operations. One of the program’s greatest advantages is that it’s designed to move at the speed of the student, says Ken Moore, an Iowa State University Distinguished Professor of Agronomy and director of the master’s program.

The 40-credit program can be completed in two years, but most students take only a class or two per semester and finish their degree in three to five years, Moore says. Wokibula distinguished herself as a driven student, he says.

“There were times she was the only student who showed up for online discussion, and it was something like four o’clock in the morning in Uganda,” Moore says. “That speaks volumes about her character and her dedication to learning.”

Most of the coursework for the master’s program is carried out online, and only an orientation and a creative component seminar require students to travel to Ames. The seminar requirement brought Wokibula to campus for the first time in 2011. At the same time, she took on an internship with the center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods during which she visited Iowa farms and took part in World Food Prize events in Des Moines.

Mark Westgate, director of the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods and Wokibula’s major professor, applauded her dedication to Ugandan agriculture.

“She has a really nice blend of practical approaches to real farm issues and a need to help farmers in Uganda improve,” Westgate says. “She’s working every day to improve the situation on the farm, and she’s committed her life to doing so.”

Wokibula credits the faculty at Iowa State for working around the complications that would pop up because she was so far away. That meant dealing with the occasionally unreliable communications technology available in Uganda.

“I’d never taken a class online before, but the faculty and staff walked me through it and made sure I was up to speed,” she says. “I’m so grateful for the understanding that they showed me and the help they gave me.”

Research that makes a difference

To complete her master’s degree, Wokibula honored the agreement she made with Chuck and Margo Wood to use her educa­tion to help farmers in her home country. Her research focused on studying how a legume called lablab interacts with corn to increase yields. By growing lablab in the same field and meeting certain conditions that she tested, Wokibula found that soil fertility improves and corn yields can jump as much as 40 percent—a quantum leap that could greatly improve incomes and quality of life for Ugandan farmers.

“It’s my hope that farmers in Uganda will utilize what I’ve learned and put my research to use,” she says.

Wokibula works with Kyklou, a nonprofit group striving to enhance living conditions in eastern Africa by improving agricultural infrastructure, land manage­ment practices and market access. She hopes to convince farmers to adopt the practices illuminated by her research.

Graduation Day

On May 10, 2013, five years after beginning the master’s program and nearly two years since she last set foot in Ames, Wokibula put on her cap and gown and received her degree during a ceremony on campus.

And once again, it was Chuck and Margo who made the trip possible. They paid for Wokibula—along with her husband Paul and young daughter— to travel to campus so she could attend the commencement ceremony.

“It has brought us great joy, pleasure and fulfillment to see Becky grow and achieve her goals,” Chuck says. “We developed a personal relationship with her and consider her a member of our family.”

And the feeling is mutual. As Wokibula went through the pomp of graduation day, Emily, her two-year-old daughter, zipped between Chuck and Margo with ease before zipping back to her mother or Paul. They took a few minutes to pose together for photographs in the Agronomy Hall courtyard, enacting the same graduation day ritual that was playing out among scores of other families across campus.


By Patrick Schrable

Patrick Schnable is a Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor of Agriculture and Life Sciences, a professor of agronomy and the Iowa Corn Promotion Board Endowed Chair in Genetics.

Patrick Schnable is a Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor of Agriculture and Life Sciences, a professor of agronomy and the Iowa Corn Promotion Board Endowed Chair in Genetics.

Growing world population and rising standards of living are increasing global demand for the products of agriculture.

To enable scientists to more readily identify and ultimately harness genes that contribute to agricultural productivity, the genetic blueprints of many crop and livestock species have been deciphered over the past decade. Iowa State faculty members have contributed to several of these high-profile genome sequencing projects.

Genetic Blueprint
An organism’s genetic blueprint—its geno­type—is not, however, sufficient to fully explain its growth and development—its phenotype. Instead, an organism’s genotype interacts with its environment to define its phenotype, such as its yield or growth rate. Understanding how particular genotypes result in specific phenotypes under specific environments is a core goal of modern biological research.

Ultimately this understanding will allow agricultural scientists to predict the phenotype of a given genotype in a given environment. For example, we seek to predict the performance of a given corn hybrid in a specific field under a specific set of agronomic practices. The ability to make accurate predictions of this type will enable farmers to select the optimal hybrids for a given field in a given year.

Similarly, and analogous to “personal­ized medicine,” such predictions will allow farmers to provide the optimal management strategy for livestock with defined genotypes. In addition, these predictions will facilitate the more efficient breeding of crops and livestock with commercially useful characteristics.

The prediction of pheno­types from genotype and environment is complicated by the fact that different genotypes respond to different environments in different ways. Hence, it is necessary to understand not only the roles of genotype and environment on pheno­type, but also the influences of interactions between genotype and environment on phenotype. To parse these complex interac­tions and develop sufficient biological understanding to develop predictive models for use by breeders, agronomists and animal scientists, it will be necessary to obtain phenotypic data from many genotypes in many, well-characterized environments.

Advances in DNA sequencing tech­nology, driven by the human genome project, are enabling scientists to readily characterize the genetic variation of hundreds to thousands of individuals in agricultural species. More challenging is doing the same for environments and phenotypes.

New tech to tackle Big Data
Iowa State University agricultural researchers in partnership with engineers are developing novel, sophisticated sensors to measure large numbers of diverse environments and phenotypes at high throughput in real time. This initiative will generate massive amounts of data that will dwarf the data deluge generated by genome sequencing projects and will therefore require a new approach to data.

The buzzword “Big Data” encompasses the acquisition, management, analysis and interpretation of information with extreme volume, variety, velocity (rate of acquisition), veracity, variability and complexity. The Big Data paradigm enables researchers to more quickly formulate and test novel hypotheses. Iowa State scientists are using the approaches of Big Data to develop statistical models that enable the prediction of phenotypes based on genotypes and environmental data.

Iowa State breeders and geneticists together with computational scientists are making use of Big Data to better understand and model crop and livestock growth and development.

The results of these collaborations promise to be both exciting and wide-reaching. They will advance our understanding of biological processes. They will revolutionize our ability to create crops and livestock that exhibit enhanced resilience to variable weather patterns associated with global climate change, helping to ensure a plentiful and stable supply of food and feed. And, importantly for Iowa, they offer substan­tial new opportunities for Iowa State to contribute to economic development.

FOREWORD – Fall 2013

December 4, 2013 Letters No Comments

3177Listen. Research. Educate. Repeat.

The cyclical nature of our land-grant institution became very apparent as I was editing stories for this issue. The Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station is the program that has allowed this research cycle to continue successfully for 125 years.

Advances in plant breeding developing crops to thrive in drought conditions, gaining insight to animal and human immune systems, refining traits in livestock to achieve healthier meat products and the stewardship of our environment using prairie strips near crop fields are all examples of research making breakthroughs today that carry on the legacy of excellence set by scientists of the past.

When I worked in the agronomy department, I would hear faculty talk about a “family tree” of research with branches reflecting those who served as major professors for a multitude of graduates. These conversations, like many involving genealogy, could go on for some time. They reminded me of two important truths —one, the impact of excellent teacher-researchers is life-changing for individuals and industries and two, everything we do is built upon the success of others.

That’s evident in the stories that follow. As is the relevance of current research funded by the Experiment Station and performed by faculty on Experiment Station appointment. They are celebrating the accomplishments of researchers past by blazing new scientific trails of their own.

Kind regards,

Melea Reicks Licht


By Barbara McBreen

Two summer internships in Uganda helped Sean Lundy, a senior in global resource systems, under¬stand the importance of working with youth in achieving sustainable international development.

Two summer internships in Uganda helped Sean Lundy, a senior in global resource systems, under¬stand the importance of working with youth in achieving sustainable international development.

Sleeping at the base of a 2,000-yearold Redwood inspired Sean Lundy to seek a career in international development. Opportunities at Iowa State University are helping his dream grow.

The summer after graduating from high school, Lundy, a senior in global resource systems and nutrition, worked for the Student Conservation Association as part of a six-member crew in Redwood National Park. Students participating in the program are sent to national parks to restore trails indigenous flora and cultural landmarks to better understand environmental conservation. For five weeks, Lundy camped in the Redwoods and hiked five miles to work carrying up to 60 pounds of gear.

“I had a lot of alone time out there to think, and I walked away knowing I wanted to do something in college that would make a difference in this world,” Lundy says.

That’s what brought him to Iowa State University.

The trail he’s since blazed led him to Uganda twice, Panama and Washington D.C. Each internship, he says, has contributed to understanding the politics, cultural influences and funding mechanisms that affect international development.

Lundy’s international experiences were fueled by scholarships. The Manatt Scholarship, Crawford Student Support Fund and “Peacemaking Award” from his home church made it possible for him to go abroad.

Tailoring International Development

In 2010, he was selected for the Uganda Service Learning Program sponsored by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in collaboration with the Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods (CSRL). He remembers his advisers emphasizing six-weeks seemed like a long time to students, but the key to successful development work is long-term sustainability.

“Our program is approaching international development in the correct way,” Lundy says. “We aren’t taking a blanket approach to a whole country. There are cultural differences in each region. We are tailoring our efforts to meet the needs of the Kamuli District.”

Lundy went back to Uganda the next summer to work with a non-governmental organization called Volunteer Efforts for Development Concerns (VEDCO). He and Brian Castro, also a senior in global resource systems, spent the first few weeks collecting basic health data on children in the Kumali district who were participants in a school feeding program. The two then chose 20 families to conduct more in-depth nutritional and socio-economic case studies.

“We went to their homes and we got to know the children really well,” Lundy says. “We wanted to understand how these children lived their lives. We walked to school with them, ate the food they ate and got to know their families.”

In the Kumali district, Lundy says families as large as eight live in homes with earthen walls the size of the living room in his college apartment. Most are subsistence farmers relying on plots less than an acre. Lundy says their data indicated improvements in the nutritional status of children as a result of the school feeding program.

“The servings of extra bean porridge at the school, which is ultimately what we assessed, was extremely effective when we compared the data from 2010 to 2011,” Lundy says. “Good nutrition affects cognitive ability, physical growth and it helps children to be more successful.”

Communication Key to Sustainability
During the summer of 2012, Lundy planned to continue work on child nutrition in Haiti. Those plans had to change because of the 2010 earthquake. Iowa State would not permit students to travel to Haiti because the U.S. State Department issued travel warnings. Lundy quickly made other plans.

David Acker, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences dean of academic and global programs, contacted Jose Pacheco (’92 ag studies), a senior Panamaniam official, to help Lundy and Castro develop an internship with the Panamanian Ministry of Agriculture Development (MIDA) and UNICEF. The framework for the internship was modeled after their research in Uganda.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen when we landed in Panama City, but it was a phenomenal experience,” Lundy says. “The MIDA advisers did everything they could to show us what was going on in Panama and enabled us to be effective in the field.”

In Panama they focused on assessing the nutritional impact of a dairy goat project on children in eleven nutritionally deficient communities. The project’s purpose was to improve child under-nutrition through supplemental dietary goat milk.

Lundy says the goats were supposed to be sent to West Africa, but that project fell through. As a result, the Panamanian government received the goats from the United Nations and implemented a program addressing nutritional issues in remote rural areas of Panama.

“MIDA did a good job developing the project, but goats are not indigenous to Panama, so most of the farmers had no idea how to integrate goats into their agriculture practices,” Lundy says.

The results of the project highlighted common issues within sustainable development Lundy says. The need for good communication with communities is essential. Lundy and Castro provided recommendations to MIDA and UNICEF officials, who welcomed the feedback and changed the program on a national scale.

“I left Uganda two years earlier thinking I had not made as big of a difference as I had hoped. That was frustrating, but it motivated me to find other experiences that would help me build on that first trip. I think we made a tangible and quantifiable impact in those Panamanian communities,” Lundy says.

Focusing on Policy at Home
During the summer of 2013 Lundy served as an intern for the Unites States Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. This provided an opportunity for him to be involved in the Farm Bill legislative process.

“It’s cool to see where all the decisions are made and observe the central nervous system of our federal government,” Lundy says. “The agriculture committee worked well together. I know agricultural policy is in good hands.”

Working in Washington D.C. offered him valuable insight to the role politics plays in international development.

The internship also presented several networking opportunities, such as lunch with Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. Tina May, profes­sional senior staff for the Senate committee, says Lundy was articulate and understood international development.

“Senate Agriculture Committee interns are a critical part of the team. It isn’t easy to get one of these internships, especially not in the middle of passing a five-year Farm Bill,” May says. “Sean’s application and subsequent work on the Committee exemplified all of the qualities we expect of our interns. We were continually impressed with his work and expect to see Sean doing great things in the future.”

A Life Worth Watching
Lundy lives by advice given to him a while ago, “One day your life will flash before your eyes—do something worth watching.”

To that end, Lundy has served as presi­dent of MEDLIFE (Medicine, Education and Development for Low-Income Families Everywhere), an organization that coordinates mobile health clinics in Latin America. He is also vice president of the Global Health and AIDS Coalition, which he co-founded. The coalition advocates increased access to medication and healthcare. It also promotes aware­ness about the resource constraints and disparities in global health.

Lundy wasn’t sure what he wanted to do when he came to Iowa State, but majoring in global resource systems and getting involved in clubs allowed him to make a difference at home and abroad.

CALS Creamy Blue Fruit Dip

November 27, 2013 News No Comments














  • 6-ounces Neufchatel
  • 3 tablespoons Maytag Blue Cheese
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • pinch of salt and black pepper
  • 1/4 cup toasted walnuts, finely chopped
  • Crimson Sweet or All Sweet
  • Seedless Watermelon
  • Chieftain apples

Combine Neufchatel and blue cheese in a food processer and process until smooth and completely combined. Add honey, brown sugar, salt and pepper. Process until everything is incorporated. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in chopped walnuts. Serve with cubed watermelon and sliced Chieftain apples.

By Lauren Grant, CALS junior in culinary science


By Maynard Hogberg

Maynard Hogberg is professor and chair of the Department of Animal Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Maynard Hogberg is professor and chair of the Department of Animal Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

It’s a source of great pride for Iowa State University to connect to farmers to science. It’s what we do. Science, from conception to consumption, has directly influenced the improvement of livestock and poultry.

When the land-grant system of higher education was initiated more than 150 years ago, it was the first time that a publicly supported research and extension program was established to improve food production and the lives of farmers engaged in feeding this country.

It’s proven to be the envy of the world. Public funding encouraged the distribution of unbiased, science-based information. Linking the science to the farmer led to significant improvements in production and profitability in rural communities.

Examples are plentiful of applying science to solve problems or improve efficiency for livestock and poultry producers:

  • Development of scientific testing and the application of genetic principles led to elimination of porcine stress syndrome (PSS) in swine.
  • Genetics research that eliminated defects such as dwarfism in beef cattle.
  • Research-based feeding regimes to reduce sulfur toxicity in feedlot cattle that are fed distillers grains with high levels of sulfur.
  • Artificial insemination and embryo transfer have greatly improved the efficiency of production and accelerated livestock genetic improvement.
  • Improved animal health through better vaccines has improved profitability, animal welfare and food safety.
  • Application of manure management techniques has improved water quality and better utilization of nutrients in crop production.
  • Research on animal behavior and stress physiology has positively influenced how modern animal housing is constructed.
  • It is a true dialogue. Scientific results prompted the farmer to ask further questions, stimulating creative thinking on how new research could make improvements. Science is an integral component to problem-solving on the farm.

One way we sustain this dialogue in our Department of Animal Science at Iowa State University is through an external advisory committee, which brings scientists and the livestock and poultry industry together. We convey research progress to the industry. Our faculty scientists and extension specialists can interact with producers to better understand their priorities and challenges. Strong communication ties are essential to make sure science and technology are transferred quickly.

Now more than ever that’s important. Projections of a growing global population and the need to double food production over the next 40 years will require a rapid rate of application of new technologies. New scientific advances in livestock production systems will need to minimize environmental impacts, lowering the carbon footprint per unit of food produced. They will need to produce safe, nutritious foods while simultaneously improving animal well-being. And, as we have strived for so many decades, they must help our farmers and their families thrive and remain in the business of protein production.

For this to work quickly and efficiently will require strong and sustained public support and funding for research and extension of our food system.

The consumer is the ultimate benefactor. Science adopted by Iowa’s livestock and poultry farmers should result in safe, wholesome and affordable food that is produced with minimal environmental impact and in a socially acceptable manner.


By Melea Reicks Licht

Shane Bugeja took part in a semester abroad in Stuttgart, Germany, thanks in part to a gift of grain from alumni Keith and Barb Sexton.

Shane Bugeja took part in a semester abroad in Stuttgart, Germany, thanks in part to a gift of grain from alumni Keith and Barb Sexton.

Shane Bugeja’s experience in Stuttgart, Germany, in 2012 was different in two ways. First, he was immersed in the culture for four months studying agronomy and animal nutrition at the University of Hohenheim. It forced him out of his comfort zone and allowed him to grow and experience more than his previous travels combined.

Second, when Bugeja (‘13 agronomy) discovered his trip abroad was supported by a gift of grain from an Iowa farmer he was touched. “It is so cool to think that
a wagon full of grain paid for my plane ticket,” he says. “That’s pretty fitting.”

That gift of grain came from Iowa State alumni Keith and Barb Sexton of Rockwell City, Iowa. Their gift was used to fund scholarships that support students including Bugeja in international experiences. Keith (‘71 agricultural business) and sons Brian (‘08 agricultural studies) and Brent, a senior in animal science, have studied abroad. The Sextons felt it was important to give other students the same opportunity.

“Agriculture is our profession and we believe it is beneficial to support agriculture students, especially when you read about the large debt load of so many students,” Keith says. “We believe travel outside the U.S. makes participants better citizens. It expands their interaction with people from other cultures and hopefully makes them appreciate their home culture more.”

That was the case for Bugeja who interacted with students from all over the world.

After a month-long intensive language program, Bugeja took three months of graduate classes and toured German farms, including one that used animal waste as a power source.

“I gained broader knowledge about the interaction between animal welfare and environmental stewardship. I learned that animal-friendly doesn’t always mean environmentally-friendly and that there are consequences to every decision in animal and crop production,” Bugeja says.

The Sextons chose to donate with a gift of grain to make the most of favorable tax implications. Tax advisers can help farmers navigate through the process. Ray Klein, executive director of development for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is the first contact for anyone interested in making a similar gift of grain to the college. He can be reached at (515) 294-8892 or

“There are steps to put in place in advance to ensure the funds are granted as you like,” Keith says. “Because there is some extra effort required of the purchaser of the grain, we only use grain gifts for our larger contributions. We are fortunate that our local elevator has been very accepting and easy to work with as they make separate checks to the various organizations.”

Bugeja was always interested in science and says agronomy is a perfect way to apply science to benefit people. In his work with Iowa State agronomist Fernando Miguez this summer Bugeja is studying the emission of carbon from farm fields and prairies. The research will offer details useful in improving crop modeling.

In time their research may help farmers make management decisions to improve yield of the same crops that fueled his experience abroad.

Iowa’s farmers are substantially involved in philanthropy, donating their time and money to organizations, causes and charities, according to the Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll. Of the more than 1,200 farmers who participated in the poll, 89 percent reported they donated money to a cause in the previous year, and 80 percent volunteered time to charity. Overall, 91 percent donated time or money to an organization, cause or charity, including churches and religious groups. Recent surveys of the general public show that between 70 and
75 percent of Americans donate time and money to charity. Read more Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll findings at


By Melea Reicks Licht

Heidi Vittetoe has seen the pork industry evolve over the last 30 years as consumers ask for leaner products and more details about how animals are raised.

Heidi Vittetoe has seen the pork industry evolve over the last 30 years as consumers ask for leaner products and more details about how animals are raised.

Heidi Vittetoe has thick skin. It has helped her protect what’s at her core—the care and commitment to her family, her animals and her state’s most vital industry.

Vittetoe (‘80 animal science) and her husband Jerome run a fourth-generation farrow-to-finish sow operation near Washington, Iowa,—JW Vittetoe Pork, Ltd. She is the general manager of the pork operation, which markets about 250,000 hogs annually, employs 65 individuals and has 30 local farmers as contract growers. Vittetoe’s two daughters are integral parts of their business. Rachel (Berdo) is the office manager and human resources expert and Amanda (Adam) is the nursery supervisor.

During her 30 years raising hogs, Vittetoe has seen consumer demand shift towards a leaner product that’s still moist and flavorful. And more consumers want to know how their pork is raised.

“It is important to us to listen to consumers and to maintain the best welfare of the animals,” she says. “We have worked to nearly eliminate our use of antibiotics in feed, emphasizing vaccines for prevention. When pigs do get sick, we use more of supportive therapies like aspirin or ibuprofen.”

Pigs have unique needs at different ages. The Vittetoes work hard to address those needs by providing the right feed, the right environment and the right handling at every stage. They make that happen by implementing new technologies in the breeding process to improve uniformity of pigs in barns, thereby shortening the marketing window. And, she says, using computers to keep track of everything from genetic markers to sales data to feed rations has revolutionized the industry.

Vittetoe was honored
by the Iowa Farm Bureau
Federation as the 2011 Woman in Agriculture,
 in recognition of her
outstanding leadership.
She and her husband have been named Iowa Master Pork Producers by the Iowa Pork Producers Association and Pork All-Americans. While she’s a known leader and advocate for agriculture, she’s also a leader in her community serving on the school board, in her church and, in years past, with state and local Farm Bureau activities.

When she was appointed to the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission in 2003, she offered a farmer’s perspective to the group that provides policy oversight over Iowa’s environmental protection efforts.

Lori Glanzman, former director of utilities for Mount Pleasant, Iowa, served on the commission with Vittetoe.

“When Heidi said something, people listened. Her input always carried weight. Her comments were always thought through,” Glanzmann says. “She’s one
of the smartest women I know.”

Vittetoe’s service on the commission prompted some discussion about farmers’ role in shaping environmental policy. “I found it ironic when charges were leveled that in having an impact on rules about hog production, I somehow had a conflict of interest,” she says. “I was there to offer my authentic, real-life experience.”

Those are the times when having thick skin pays off.

She takes a balanced view of critics. “I would have taken it much more personally if someone had said I didn’t have the backbone to stand up for what I thought was right,” Vittetoe says.

What she believes in is staying positive and building trust.

“I make a point of asking our employees to spread the good news of ag. This year we began training them on all aspects
of the company so they could clearly articulate what we’re about,” she says.

Vittetoe builds trust with consumers through open communication and transparency.

“When we offer tours of our barn and talk about why we do what we do, I feel that people leave feeling better about not only hog production, but about where all their food comes from,” she says.


By Virginia Zantow

Brian (left) and Jay Halbur discuss signs  of possible nutrient deficiency or foliar disease with Mark Licht (center), extension field agronomist.

Brian (left) and Jay Halbur discuss signs of possible nutrient deficiency or foliar disease with Mark Licht (center), extension field agronomist.

Farmer Jim Halbur and his family are making the most of expertise offered by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach field agronomist Mark Licht. But if you ask Licht, the relationship is far from one-sided.

“Working with farmers like the Halburs allows me to see how our recommendations work in the field,” Licht says. “I also can see what further research and information is needed.”

The Halburs, who farm near Glidden, Iowa, agree. They call theirs a “symbiotic relationship.” The Halbur operation consists of Jim (‘78 farm operations),

Barb, an ISU education grad and three sons: Brian (’03 agricultural studies), Scott (’05 agricultural business and economics, MS ’06 accounting) and Jay (’08 agricultural business). Son Chad
(’11 ag studies and accounting) is a lawyer in Chicago and daughter Bridget (’13 ag studies and accounting) is working on her law degree at Kansas State.

The Halbur farm produces mostly corn, but will also include soybeans this year.

“The Halburs run a modern and efficient operation,” Licht says. “They’re progressive farmers who offer insight into where farming’s going.”

Science-driven decisions

Licht first connected with Halburs several years ago when they reached out to him with questions about soil sampling.

That opened a door for discussions about micronutrients—which ones were needed on their fields, and where. Licht was able to help them pinpoint what they needed from fertilizers in order to reach a higher level of production.

“He’s like the pharmacist of soils,” Barb says.

Licht’s agronomic expertise equipped the Halburs with the knowledge necessary to make an important decision for their arm—acquiring their own on-site facili- ties for mixing and storing vital liquid chemicals and dry fertilizers.

Because of these facilities, the Halburs now have the ability to mix their own fertilizers and customize them to their fields’ current needs. This gives them optimal control for fine-tuning what goes into the soil.

Brian, who works full-time on the farm and makes a lot of the management decisions, says Licht helps him decide “which products to use, how much to use and what’s going to pay back.”

“Every decision always starts with agronomics,” Licht says. Basic knowledge of soil fertility helps guide the Halburs when they make big decisions.

“Fertilizer technology has changed,” Brian says. “They’re starting to stack a lot more nutrients on a pellet or a granule. You have to make sure that the value
is there. Mark and I work quite a bit on trying to back-figure to the base ingredi- ents, because you can buy the same base ingredients that are on the granule.”

Buying fertilizer ingredients in bulk not only helps fine-tune soil fertility— it also saves money. The same goes for micronutrients like sulfur and zinc, which Licht has identified as desirable for improving soil fertility on the Halbur farm. Elemental sulfur is more stable in the soil after it has been applied. Instead of using elemental sulfur, the Halburs have used their environmentally safe facilities to mix ammonium thiosulfate, which they’ll use in the meantime while building sulfur levels in the soil with elemental sulfur. They also have mixed and applied ammo-niated zinc.

It’s paid off.

“Both those facilities are expensive, but the savings going to this ammonium thiosulfate and ammoniated zinc while you bridge the gap is such a huge amount that it pays for the installation of the system and beyond,” Brian says.

Spirit of independence

The spot of land where the sleek, metal facilities for bulk chemicals and dry fertilizer stand also hosts grain storage and drying facilities.

The high standards the Halburs maintain at their grain facilities enable them to sell their corn to specialty processors.

“Being able to store it and dry it ourselves results in a higher test weight and a cleaner product,” Jay says.

Storing their own grain also helps the Halburs maintain their independence.

Instead of having to rely on a third
party to store their grain, the family has complete control over their own product.

“A big theory on this farm is: direct from the manufacturer, direct to the end user,” Jim says.

This independent spirit is certainly a running theme in the Halburs’ life, and it’s one of the things that keeps them on the agricultural forefront. It also puts ISU Extension and Outreach in a position to be extremely valuable to the Halburs’ operation.

“The university provides independent research that checks the performance of products,” Scott says. “Extension provides agronomic advice about that research, how products work and changes in the industry.”

Licht connects the Halburs to other Iowa State researchers who offer different expertise as needed. And, he connects the family with international guests— farmers from countries like Ukraine and Brazil—who want a look at farming in the United States. That helps Licht provide an advanced view of Iowa agriculture to groups he hosts and allows the Halburs to showcase their operation and visit with farmers from around the world.


By Willy Klein

Extension farm management specialist Kelvin Leibold looks for ways to help farmers manage risks. He hosts the Women’s Grain Marketing Club to discuss factors affecting prices and provide networking opportunities.

Extension farm management specialist Kelvin Leibold looks for ways to help farmers manage risks. He hosts the Women’s Grain Marketing Club to discuss factors affecting prices and provide networking opportunities.

Folks in north central Iowa know Kelvin Leibold and trust he has their best interest at heart. As their ISU Extension and Outreach farm management specialist for the past 25 years, he has helped educate landowners at farm leasing meetings and in one-on-one conversations; pork producers on manure management plans; farm producers with each new farm bill; and over 5,000 John Deere employees about farming.

Some say Leibold (’77 ag education, ’87 MS) has an inquisitive nature and
a passion for agriculture that’s infectious, especially combined with his ability to relate to Iowa farmers.

“There is no doubt that our business relationship with Kelvin has added to our bottom line,” says Jenny Thomas, Humboldt County farmer. “Back in the ’80s he walked us through risk analyses before we made some tough decisions.”

Those decisions created the foundation for their family farming business to expand on; today Jenny is the primary operator. She credits support networks established through Leibold for her self- confidence in making difficult decisions.

“His Women’s Grain Marketing Club’s regular meetings keep me focused on this important component of my business,” says Thomas. “Not only do I have a broader perspective of the factors affecting prices, but I get to meet other women who are making the grain marketing decisions for their family.”

Since Leibold started with extension in 1987, farming and educational technology have changed. There is more data avail- able to farmers, and the dollars farmers manage are much greater. But, Leibold says, one thing remains the same. “When I sit down with a farm family, whether the situation is a startup, a retirement
or bringing in another generation, it’s still all about managing the risks associated with running a family business.”

Such was the case when Dave and Annette Sweeney returned to Iowa and her family farm near Radcliffe in the ’80s. “He knows the best possible scenario for people isn’t always the one they want to hear, but he has the ability to remove the emotion from the situation and make it about the business decision,” Sweeney says.
His clients—farmers, lenders, land owners and ag businesses—get information faster and more frequently, making them more sophisticated in their decision making says Leibold. He’s appreciative of his clients’ vast knowledge and interests and doesn’t hesitate to involve them beyond the typical farm management meeting.

Clients say Leibold’s contributions to the ag community go beyond programming, analyses and facilitating conversations. It’s more personal than that. He takes time to get to know them and their interests, and he knows when he has new information they’d like to have.

That was the case when he approached Annette Sweeney with the Annie’s Project curriculum before the national farm women’s education program was introduced in Iowa. He knew Sweeney’s experiences made her a good candidate to review the program content and its application with women in Iowa.

Leibold’s international work and how he transfers knowledge illustrates the ripple effect of his contributions, in Iowa and as far away as Nigeria.

Jenny Thomas says hearing Leibold talk of his work in Nigeria inspired her to volunteer for the Women in Agriculture project in Uganda, coordinated in part by ISU Extension and Outreach. She recently returned from her second trip to Africa saying the project has empowered Ugandan women farmers to better provide for their families and be bolder business women.

Matt Siefker, an Eagle Grove farmer, says he goes to all of Leibold’s meetings because, “He’s a good person to learn from. He’s been out and about in Africa, Asia and South America. I enjoy hearing what he has to talk about.”

When hosting Nigerian and Ukrainian farmers, Leibold sets up tours of Siefker’s farm so the young Iowa farmer can connect with farmers from those regions.

“I think the more information I can share with Iowa farmers about what is going on the better. Whether it’s about the global food markets and bio-fuels, legislation on environmental issues or potential impacts of carbon sequestration and the carbon footprint of our agriculture compared to the rest of the world—it makes them more knowledgeable and competitive in world markets,” says Leibold


By Kristin Senty

Economist Mike Duffy has shared results and analysis from his Land Value Survey for more than 25 years. With historic high land values for several years run- ning, his annual press conference is much anticipated by local and national media.

Economist Mike Duffy has shared results and analysis from his Land Value Survey for more than 25 years. With historic high land values for several years run- ning, his annual press conference is much anticipated by local and national media.

The world’s most productive land rests in Iowa, and extension economist Mike Duffy is known as the voice of expertise who relates its worth.

Through his trademark annual Land Value Survey, Duffy shares results and analysis with media ranging from the New York Times to readers of Wallace’s Farmer. After 25 years, Duffy’s thoughtful delivery is so intertwined with the information itself it’s hard to imagine one without the other.

Duffy says not a day passes when there isn’t an email or a phone call to answer. But the delivery of anything he shares, he says, is much more than just reporting results.

“I know and understand the information that I work with and try to answer people’s questions—all over the board,” says Duffy. “I try to be moderate and work hard to give people as much information as I can so they can form their own opinions.”

But it’s not just the Land Value Survey he’s responsible for compiling and communicating to the general public, there are also surveys on land ownership, cost of production and land sales data.

And as the former associate director
of the Leopold Center, the chair of the sustainable agriculture program, the former director of the Beginning Farmers Center, or in his current work on soil conservation, there’s a distinct message around conservation and sustainable agricultural practices that he’s well known for.

As he contemplates retirement, Duffy reflects on the fact that he is so closely connected to the information he shares.

“Probably the biggest thing in my whole career has been to learn how to balance societal perspective with individual perspective.”

Economics of hope

Duffy honed his balancing skills in his first position with Iowa State University as an extension farm management field specialist in Cedar Rapids, counseling farmers on their financial options during the farm crisis in the 1980s.

“For seven days a week I was dealing with people in crisis. There were suicides and even some murders because of the stress. It was a traumatic time, and my role was to deal with people, offer information and to help them to have hope, he says. “Those years had a strong influence on me.”

Duffy arrived at ISU’s Department of Economics in 1985, starting as an assistant professor and receiving full tenure by 1992. His research interests have focused on conservation, sustainability, small scale farm practices and an appeal to a more cautionary approach in the use of technology in agriculture.

In an era where technology-driven ag production practices are the predominant approach, he admits some of his views have had a “built-in potential for conflict.”

Yet rather than “draw lines in the sand,” Duffy is more interested in finding ways to help people meet in the middle.

Seeing both sides of the Fence

He expresses concern about the polarization of views in agriculture today—a polarization he sees as preventing problem solving on critical issues that affect the future of farming, no matter what side of the fence.

He points to the ongoing problem
of topsoil erosion and the imminent need to improve conservation. “Farmers are only trying to make a living, whether or not they’re using good soil conservation practices. No one goes out and says, ‘how much soil can I destroy today?’” he says. Yet he knows valuable topsoil will be lost forever without active conservation.

Duffy and a team through the Iowa Learning Farm recently were able to show that erosion results in a loss of revenue for the farmer. He hopes the presentation of information that relates to everyone’s bottom line can help farmers find middle ground.

“You certainly don’t move forward by being a Luddite,” he says. “But you also don’t move forward without examining things carefully.

“I try to empower people to see other points of view rather than just harden into one position—I think the future of conservation depends on our willingness to walk a mile in each other’s moccasins.”

Paul Lasley, chair of the Department of Sociology at Iowa State University, agrees Duffy is “really more interested in building bridges” than towing a hard line. The two have worked with each other closely off and on since the mid-1980s on issues around farm policy, rural development and natural resources, and share a similar background in the use of surveys to convey information to the public.

“Over the years Mike has fostered what I would call a participatory approach,” says Lasley. “He’s come to realize that when you hold your own views too strongly, people don’t talk. So he offers information in ways that help people solve problems.”

“No matter what side of an issue you’re on, ultimately, people not only hear him, but respect him for his wisdom, knowledge and the years of service he’s given to the public,” Lasley says.

Online Extra: Check our Mike Duffy’s land valuation study, including a video press conference on the latest results.


By Barbara McBreen

The Christensen family: back row (left to right) Mark Pierce (’10 agricultural business), Mike Hosch (’05 animal science), Jim Christensen (’80 farm operations), Wes Christensen (’13 agricultural studies) and Luis Soto. Front row: Lee Christensen (’10 animal science), Jennifer Hosch, (’05 animal science), Samuel Hosch, Julie Christensen, Jackie Sorenson (’12 marketing) and Anne Soto.

The Christensen family: back row (left to right) Mark Pierce (’10 agricultural business), Mike Hosch (’05 animal science), Jim Christensen (’80 farm operations), Wes Christensen (’13 agricultural studies) and Luis Soto. Front row: Lee Christensen (’10 animal science), Jennifer Hosch, (’05 animal science), Samuel Hosch, Julie Christensen, Jackie Sorenson (’12 marketing) and Anne Soto.

If you ask Julie and Jim Christensen about their greatest accomplishment they will tell you—it’s their children’s connection to agriculture.

“All four of our children have a deep love for agriculture and they are proud of those roots,” says Julie.

Jim (’80 farm operations) adds, “They are proud of where they came from and they understand the responsibility of caring for the land and animals.”

The Christensens own and manage a farm and feedlot near Royal, Iowa, where they have raised corn, soybeans, beef cattle —and a crop of ISU agriculture and life sciences graduates—for more than 30 years.

“We enjoy what we do,” Julie says. “We have chores every day and we like getting up and getting going.”

They agree there isn’t an average day at the farm, but that’s what makes it exciting. Their philosophy is simple.

“The care and comfort of our animals is our first priority every day,” Jim says. “As long as we stay focused on the principles of animal care and land sustainability, the business should continue to support our family for generations to come.”

In 2012, Iowa ranked fourth in the nation in the number of cattle and calves in feeding operations in the state. Jim grew up on a cattle-feeding farm and says beef demand at the global level is a challenge and an opportunity. Last year’s drought presented some challenges as producers deal with high feed costs, cow liquidation and negative feeding margins.

“We’re seeing smaller domestic cattle numbers, increased global competition and a growing protein need in the world’s population,” Jim says. “This has created a need to develop safe, healthy and efficient food animal production systems that are based on sound science, grounded in basic research and use applied technology.”

Iowa State played an important role in bringing Julie and Jim together—they met when Jim lived in the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and Julie lived across the street in the Kappa Delta house. While Jim grew up raising cattle, he says he gained a better understanding of animal science at Iowa State. His favorite classes included meat science taught by David Topel, an emeritus professor of animal science, and a graduate class on ruminant nutrition from Wise Burroughs, a Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished professor in animal science.

Today they see Iowa State as central to helping producers like themselves remain on the front lines in developing the science to feed a growing world population.

“Iowa State University is a leader in the five critical areas of scientific development that are needed to meet the future challenges we face: genetics, animal health and well being, food safety, nutrition and the environment,” Jim says.

The Christensens are active members in the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association and Jim serves on the Iowa State Department of Animal Science External Advisory Board.

“Jim and Julie are strong supporters of Iowa State University. Their passion for making Iowa State stronger and more able to support the beef cattle industry is greatly appreciated,” says Maynard Hogberg, chair of the Iowa State animal science department.

Their passion for ISU athletics also burns strong. It drives them to attend as many Iowa State football and basketball games as possible. Julie’s dad, Dick Ludwig (’53 agronomy) was an avid Iowa State sports fan and her grandfather, Fred Ludwig, played basketball for Iowa State from 1925 to 1929.

Three of the four Christensen children attended Iowa State, and Jim and Julie are happy to share all are finding their own success.

Jennifer Hosch (’05 animal science and ’09 veterinary medicine) is a practicing veterinarian in Farley, Iowa. She and her husband, Mike (’05 animal science), farm near Cascade, Iowa.

Lee Christensen (’10 animal science) received her master’s degree from California

Polytechnic State University in 2012 and is working as a food scientist for Kraft Foods in Madison, Wis. Lee married Mark Pierce (’10 agricultural business) this summer.

Anne Soto graduated from the University of Minnesota and taught in the Teach for America program for three years. She received an MBA from Indiana University and is an education investment analyst near Oakland, California. Anne and her husband Luis live in the San Francisco Bay area.

Wes graduated from Iowa State in May in agricultural studies. He was an active student ambassador and recently took
a study abroad trip to Panama to learn about tropical agriculture production and international business and trade.

Wes plans to work outside the farm for a few years before returning to Royal where he hopes to be part of the family’s sixth generation that will operate and manage the farm.


By Ed Adcock

Association-led farms bring together farmers, researchers,  faculty, extension field specialists and farm staff on about 600 research trials annually.

Association-led farms bring together farmers, researchers, aculty, extension field specialists and farm staff on about 600 research trials annually.

In 1930, with the Great Depression taking hold, a group of farmers and businessmen around Kanawha set out to raise money to buy Iowa State University’s first outlying research farm. Northern Iowa’s staple crops differed from the rest of the state, and they wanted a direct way to link to Iowa State’s expertise.  The plan was that the association would own the land and the Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station would operate it, conducting research projects.

Northern Iowa had considerable acres of barley, flax, sugar beets and potatoes. Diseases in sugar beets and potatoes were a growing problem. The farmers hoped that by aligning with Iowa State experts, together they could turn things around. The partnership worked.

Despite trying economic times, the group met its goal and on May 4, 1931 the Northern Iowa Experimental Association was organized with 350 stockholders creating the 85-acre Northern Research Farm. Experimental work dealt with problems related to corn, wheat, oats, barley, sugar beets, flax and potatoes.

“That’s been the foundational premise repeated over and over across the state,” says Mark Honeyman, research farms coordinator. “These associations own the land and provide it at a very low fee. They give advice to the college on what kind of research they’d like done there. We staff it, equip it, build the buildings and conduct research and field days. The relationship is very enduring and very positive.

Eight associations own farms in that Iowa State operates for research and demonstrations.  Three other locations—McNay, Allee and Brayton Forest—are on land given to the university.

The farms are scattered across the state for many reasons. “The soils are different, the climates are different and to some degree the agricultural enterprises and communities differ,” Honeyman says. A common thread is the partnership that brings together farmers and researchers, either campus faculty, extension field specialists or farm staff. Annually, about 130 project leaders conduct nearly 600 research trials.

“The research farms are fairly humble, it’s one or two people, it’s a network of plots and that’s it. It’s a fairly low budget operation, but the information that they generate is incredibly solid,” he says.
An example of association input came in 2006 when the Northwest farm was facing cutbacks that caused it to close one of its locations. Rodney Mogler, an association member who was part of the discussions, farmed near the closed location.

“We suggested creating a research program on private farms that the college and extension adopted, and now it’s being expanded across the state. I feel comfort- able with on-farm research results from my home farm and that of my neighbors,” Mogler says.

Honeyman says other states, especially large ones, generally have research stations staffed with faculty that do research. The association model works in Iowa because of its size and Iowa State is centrally located.

“These grass-roots farm associations are Iowa’s public farms,” he says.


By Virginia Zantow

Greg Tylka is one of the nation's leading experts on soybean cyst nematode. He says, "I feel like I work for farmers."

Greg Tylka is one of the nation’s leading experts on soybean cyst nematode. He says, “I feel like I work for farmers.”

Greg Tylka’s eyes light up when he talks about microscopic roundworms. He can’t help it. Tylka finds soybean cyst nematode (SCN) biologically intriguing. The professor of plant pathology and microbiology is one of the nation’s leading experts on the pest. Even though he’s studied it for over 20 years, he says the tiny worm can still mystify him with its unpredictable ways of interacting with soybeans and other pests.

“I’m always looking forward to the next question or the next problem,” Tylka says.

It seems that SCN, estimated to infest 75 percent of soybean fields in Iowa, is always providing that next question or problem.

“The coolest thing about SCN,” Tylka says, “is that it actually changes the physiology of the soybean it attaches itself to so the plant reacts differently to other pests and organisms.”

For example, when the soybean plant is being fed upon by the soybean aphid, SCN seems to thrive, perhaps because the aphid shuts down some of the plant’s defenses. On the other hand, as nematodes

feed on soybeans, soybean aphids do not fare as well as they do on healthy plants. It’s enough to make a non-pathologist’s head spin.

Tylka and his colleagues also have found SCN breaks soybeans’ resistance to brown stem rot, and nematodes make sudden death syndrome much worse. Tylka and his team are trying to deter- mine why this is.

While Tylka has chased clues to the many riddles of SCN over the years, soybean farmers in Iowa have benefited greatly from Tylka’s work.

“I feel like I work for farmers,” Tylka says.

This is literally true. Over the course of his career, Iowa soybean farmers have funded much of his research through soybean checkoff funds.

Kirk Leeds, CEO of the Iowa Soybean Association, says Tylka is a leader as a researcher, and he takes his Extension role to heart.

“One of the most significant contributions Tylka has made to the soybean industry was in the ’90s, when he led the SCN Coalition, bringing together pathologists across the country to educate farmers about SCN and how to manage it.”

The tagline for the SCN Coalition was, “Take the test. Beat the pest.” That simple advice is still the way to keep SCN at bay: getting soil tested for the pest, growing SCN-resistant varieties and sometimes growing other crops for a year.

Tylka and his crew test hundreds of SCN-resistant soybean varieties every year—an operation he refers to as
“a well-oiled machine” that has been running for more than two decades.

He recently began evaluating new seed treatments claiming to ward off SCN. And, in 2012, farmers were reeling from the effects of the drought, but SCN was undaunted.

“SCN reproduction went crazy high. Soybean yields did not decrease, but the nematode count skyrocketed,” Tylka says. “It opens up a new set of questions I want to attack.”


By Mark Mueller

Mark Mueller

Mark J. Mueller (’81 ag business, ’87 agronomy) is a fourth generation farmer near Waverly, Iowa. Production has included corn, tofu and seed soybeans, rye grain, azuki beans, alfalfa and silage corn. He has worked for seed companies, served as president of the Northeast Research and Demonstration Farm Association and hosted Iowa Learning Farms no-till field days. He is married with two daughters, and the oldest is pursuing a degree in agriculture and life sciences at Iowa State University.

Most facets of modern farming impress and occasionally inspire envy among my non-farming friends and acquaintances.  Seldom are two days in a row the same.  I answer only to my wife and my banker. Some pretty cool toys can be written off as business expenses. There are no cubicles. Every day is casual Friday.

With my job, I usually feel like I won the lottery, even during the “Great Drought of ’12” which cut my corn yield in half. But, occasionally, I run into the perception that farming is little more than driving a tractor in the spring and driving a combine in the fall, all the while listening to the radio in air-conditioned comfort. Agronomist, marketer, mechanic and purchasing agent quickly come to mind when I think of skills useful in farming. Less obvious ones include accountant, machinist, meteorologist, venture capitalist, chemist, engineer and truck driver. The more esoteric skills would include labor negotiator, blacksmith, geographic information specialist, human resources specialist and once in a great while, computer programmer. I don’t need to master every discipline required to farm but I’d better be pretty good at a lot of them.

Farmers might be to blame for this perception of skills needed. We make it look easy, especially when we’ve spent the last several years in another “golden age” of agriculture. Today, the money ($7 corn) and technology get everyone’s attention. Most don’t realize landlords and seed, fertilizer, chemical and machinery companies also saw $7 corn and raised their prices accordingly. The farmer’s pie got bigger, and then everyone took a bigger slice.

I want non-farmers to know that, even now, when crop insurance and hedging strategies are supposed to guarantee profitability, farming is still a risky business that runs on a tremendous amount of borrowed capital. My banker is the most important person in my business. When the good times end, I’ll need him more than ever.

Many outside agriculture only have fuzzy memories of farming, probably dating back to a photo of them on the seat of grandpa’s tractor. Far more don’t even have that tenuous connection.

My solution is for farmers to educate those around us. That can take several forms.

Our farm has hosted international visitors and local grade school students. Bus tours, organized by a Midwest lifestyle magazine, will stop in this year to hear “a real farmer talk about his business and even start a $250,000 tractor.” I’ve participated in panel discussions about food versus fuel or the merits of GMO crops and shared my international agricultural experiences with service clubs, college classes and church groups. Something
as simple as a letter to the editor will reach and teach a few.

There is no shortage of opportunities for farmers to speak with people who don’t have any exposure to farming. Teacher. That’s another skill set to add to the list.


By Darcy Maulsby

Agronomist Antonio Mallarino's insights on phosphorus use led to the development of the Phosphorus Index used by Iowa farmers to determine nutrient management plans.

Agronomist Antonio Mallarino’s insights on phosphorus use led to the development of the Phosphorus Index used by Iowa farmers to determine nutrient management plans.

High yields don’t happen by accident. They demand a science-based approach to soil fertility and sustainable agronomic practices—key areas of research for Antonio Mallarino and John Sawyer.

“Iowa farmers are among the best in the world,” says Mallarino, a professor of soil fertility at Iowa State. “They love the land and are very good at helping me keep my feet on the ground, so my research is useful.”

His research helped create the Phosphorus Index in 2000. Developed for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Phosphorus Index was adopted by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for nutrient management plans. The index offers a site-specific, farmer-friendly tool that balances cost-effective crop production with practical soil and water conservation practices, says John Lawrence, associate dean of extension and outreach in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“The Phosphorus Index allowed us to address regulatory pressure and environmental concerns and still allows us
to farm,” says Lawrence, who notes other states look to Iowa State for guidance in creating similar tools for their farmers. “Iowa is a better place because of this work.”

The science and practice of agriculture remains a passion for Mallarino, who helped his father manage their family’s farm while he pursued his agronomy degree at the University of Uruguay. “I often think as a farmer first and a scientist second,” says Mallarino, who joined the faculty after earning his doctorate in crop production and physiology at Iowa State in 1988. “From the start, I’ve wanted to help farmers become more profitable while taking care of land and water resources.”

Roy Bardole farms with his sons Tim and Pete near Rippey, Iowa. They have assisted Mallarino with on-farm research, including a study to determine whether the deep placement of fertilizer in a strip-till system for soybean production works better than other application methods. “We need these kinds of real-world answers,” says Bardole, who has served on the American Soybean Association and the United Soybean Board. “Very few researchers around the globe have Antonio’s objectivity and commitment to benefiting local farmers.”

John Sawyer, professor of agronomy, shares this commitment to serving Iowa farmers. He is focused on providing farmers with cost-effective, appropriate agronomic practices, from nitrogen applications to soil conservation. When new research revealed that existing nitrogen recommendations were higher than necessary, Sawyer helped fine-tune nitrogen application guidelines in the mid-2000s for different states and different regions within states, including Iowa.

“Iowa farmers are receptive to new ideas,” says Sawyer, who has served as an extension soil fertility and nutrient management specialist since 1998. “We want to provide relevant research to address timely issues and help farmers find solutions.”

As farmers make crop nutrient decisions every year in the face of uncertain weather and market conditions, their decisions have important economic and environmental consequences, Lawrence adds. “The applied research and extension education by John and Antonio provide practical solutions to complex questions.”


By Susan Thompson

Candice Gardner leads the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station.The station keeps more than 1,700 plant species and 53,000 different plant populations secure.

Candice Gardner leads the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station.The station keeps more than 1,700 plant species and 53,000 different plant populations secure.

Growing up on an Iowa farm, Candice Gardner planned a career in human or animal health. But once a student at Iowa State University, a summer job took her down a different path.

Working with a plant pathology researcher got me hooked on the idea of improving crop production through improving plant host resistance to diseases, insects, stress, plus variety development,” Gardner says.

After wrapping up a bachelor’s degree in bacteriology, she earned a master’s in plant pathology and a doctorate in maize breeding and genetics at the University of Missouri.

Gardner spent 17 years in private industry, first as a maize researcher with Pioneer Hi-Bred International, followed by two years at a biotechnology company. In 1999, she returned to Iowa State to lead the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station (NCRPIS).

“The station provided my previous research program with germplasm, and I was amazed at the wealth of plant genetic resources available,” Gardner says. “My goal coming here was not only to ensure conservation of these resources, but to work to understand their inherent value and help researchers use them more effectively to support food security.”

The NCRPIS, established in Ames in 1948, is one of four plant introduction stations in the United States—key components of the National Plant Germplasm System. The facility stores more than 1,700 plant species and 53,000 different plant populations in climate-controlled refrigerators and freezers, including many important field, vegetable and ornamental crops.

Researchers around the world can obtain plant materials at no cost. “Last year we provided more than 40,000 items to fulfill research needs,” Gardner says. “Unlike a library, the seeds are not checked back in.”

That’s why when the seed inventory of any variety or its germination runs low, staff grow the plants at the station to replenish seed stocks.

The NCRPIS is a joint venture of the USDA-ARS, the ISU Agricultural Experiment Station, the ISU Department of Agronomy and the agricultural experiment stations of the 12 North Central Region states.

Gardner oversees the activities of nine full-time ISU employees, 21 full-time USDA-ARS employees, a host of part- time students and two graduate students.

The agronomy department is home to both the ISU and federal employees. “The interactions with faculty and staff provide opportunities for research collaborations, student training and sharing of infrastructure and equipment to our mutual benefit,” Gardner says. “These interactions help us maintain and increase our relevance to the research community.”

Kendall Lamkey, chair of the agronomy department, praises Gardner’s efforts to collect, maintain and provide germplasm on request, despite the challenges. “Everyone thinks germplasm is important and should be preserved for the future, but funding has not kept pace with the need,” he says. “Candy frequently has to set priorities, because everything that needs to be done, cannot be done. From my perspective, she has done a great job.”



By Lynn Laws

Award-winning professor Curtis Youngs is ranked tops in teaching by students.

Award-winning professor Curtis Youngs is ranked tops in teaching by students.

Curtis Youngs is an award-winning teacher. He’s received 11 teaching and academic advising awards in just the last two years, and students rank him first or second among animal science faculty teaching required courses at Iowa State. His accolades illuminate the skills, commitment and authenticity he offers his students.

“He knows his students by name— makes you feel like you’re connected to the class,” says Brady Zuck, a junior in animal science and pre-veterinary medicine. “The way he shares information is very easy to understand and follow. He also knows how to use humor.”

The professor of animal science employs a variety of classroom techniques, including “baaaad jokes” in sheep science class and “neighborhood chats” in his domestic animal reproduction course.
As he lectures, he monitors student reactions. If he sees the “deer in the head- lights look” he asks a thought-provoking question on the topic and gives students permission to talk with other students about how to answer the question.

“Taking this little one-minute break, letting them become more active in their learning, enables them to come back and refocus for the rest of the lecture,” says Youngs.

“We need to develop students as people, develop their thinking skills and develop their self-confidence. I want to give them the encouragement and support they need to get outside their comfort zone and try new things,” says Youngs. “I tell students to be the best that they can be and to define success for themselves.”

Youngs says he was drawn to teaching by students’ inquisitive nature and interest in science—traits he shares. He was ushered into his career at Iowa State, in 1989, by his research. His areas of research include factors influencing embryo development and survival in domestic farm animals and applied reproductive technologies such as artificial insemination and embryo transfer.

A desire to “make a difference” led him to create novel courses at Iowa State, including a bioethics honors seminar and the only embryo transfer lecture and lab courses available to undergraduate students in the United States.

He also teaches career preparation in animal science, advises 65 undergraduate students and has served terms as faculty adviser for the Block & Bridle and Dairy Science Clubs. He is working with students to establish a new organization called the Alliance of Multicultural Pre-Veterinary Students.

His research, teaching and advising doesn’t end at the borders of Iowa State. Since 2007, through the USDA Borlaug Fellowship program, Youngs has helped young scientists in Peru, Kosovo and Ethiopia. He does this work using the developmental approach that has served him well with students at Iowa State.

“When working in an international agricultural setting you have to shed your views of your own world and ask, ‘What is important to these people?’ and help identify opportunities to cultivate new markets” Youngs says.


FROM THE DEAN – Fall 2013

4 Dec 2013


125 Breakthroughs Most people know me as the dean of an Iowa State college that has roots going back 155 years. Some may know less about the other title I hold, linked to an agricultural research program that has served Iowa for 125 years. I am director of the Iowa …

FOREWORD – Fall 2013

4 Dec 2013


Listen. Research. Educate. Repeat. The cyclical nature of our land-grant institution became very apparent as I was editing stories for this issue. The Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station is the program that has allowed this research cycle to continue successfully for 125 years. Advances in plant breeding developing …