Reetz, Lowenberg-Deboer Named Legacy Award Recipients

Harold Reetz and Jess Lowenberg-Deboer are the co-recipients of the Legacy Award in the PrecisionAg Awards of Excellence program for 2010. They will join the three other winners in Denver next month as this year’s Award of Excellence nominees at the 10th International Conference on Precision Agriculture.

Below are excerpts from the nomination essays sent on their behalf.

Harold Reetz
Harold Reetz has been a champion of technology and precision agriculture throughout his four decade-long career. Starting out in Extension in the Purdue University system in the 1970s, he assumed numerous leadership roles over the years and worked tirelessly as a champion for improving agronomic practices through education, research, outreach, and collaboration with like-minded growers and researchers from around the world.

In his role as Midwest Director of the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), Reetz promoted the use of variable rate fertilizers. He initiated the InfoAg Conference in the mid-1990s as a way of getting people together to share experiences and build a networked community of vendors, users, and service providers. As President of the Foundation for Agronomic Research he led multi-state teams in field research projects and development of training materials and workshops on the use of precision farming and the resulting data to make decisions. Now with Reetz Agronomics, Harold continues to champion the role of precision technologies in maximizing yield and minimizing environmental impact from crop production.

With his background in agronomy and extension, Harold has kept the focus of the application of technology on solving agronomic questions. He was an early leader in the solicitation of research money for studying the benefits of precision agriculture in the production environment. He led a multi-state, multi-year project funded by the United Soybean Board beginning in the late ’90s that carried into the new century. The researchers involved in the projects contributed papers on processes and techniques for evaluating precision practices on a field scale. Harold’s efforts kept the funding flowing through the years while providing a forum for participating researchers and practitioners to share their thoughts on the benefits of precision agriculture.
Building on the USB projects, he also led a project funded by USDA that focused on the development of training materials, workshops, and online tutorials in the use of data from precision technologies. Answering questions asked by producers at InfoAg and other conferences, this project helped provide simple tools for evaluating the data received from precision agriculture practices like soil sampling and yield mapping. Working with colleagues from industry and research institutions Harold made sure the message was one that producers could use in their agronomic decision-making process.

Early on Harold recognized the impact precision agriculture could have on the environment. Through his role in the fertilizer industry Harold promoted variable rate technologies and worked with others involved in nutrient management plans to consider variability within a field when considering nutrient loading limits for phosphorus and nitrogen. Harold used precision agriculture to consider factors such as proximity to surface drainage, slope, and soil type to vary fertilizer application rates, timing, and methods. By using precision ag technologies in nutrient management plans, Harold found ways to help farmers become better stewards of their land while keeping an eye on the bottom line. Throughout his career he has represented agriculture within the industry, outside the industry and in Washington as a steward of the environment. This work continues today as he works with various industry partners in projects funded by NRCS and EPA.

Says Quentin Rund, president of PAQ Interactive and long-time collaborator with Reetz on the InfoAg Conference: “Harold’s overall impact on precision agriculture continues to play out in his unique abilities to get people together, share ideas, and work toward common goals. His legacy as a professional and a human being will be formidably represented in the relationships developed through his direct (and indirect) contact with thousands of people in the industry.

“In an age where electronic communication dominates our personal interactions, Harold reminds us of the value of sitting down and talking through our ideas face to face,” he continues. “When you attend InfoAg and see the ideas, companies, and commerce that have benefitted from his goodwill and guidance you begin to understand how one person can have such a lasting impact on an industry. It is not easy to carry the torch of an idea for more than three decades, but Dr. Reetz has done it and continues to brighten the way for those who wish to follow. His presence in the industry is a constant reminder of what is possible and that we must always strive to push the envelope of possibility and understanding.”

Jess Lowenberg-Deboer
Jess Lowenberg-DeBoer is currently Associate Dean, Director of International Programs, and Professor of Agricultural Economics in the College of Agriculture at Purdue University, but his prior work in precision agriculture economics played an invaluable role in the growth of precision agriculture practices.

His contributions included original research into the profitability of every aspect of precision agriculture, including tracking the adoption of technology at the farm and service provider level. He has published 55 articles in refereed journals, two books, and chapters in six other books, and his work has taken him to over 40 countries.

“Jess was one of the pioneers in conducting economic analyses of precision farming technologies, notes Rodolfo G. Bongiovanni, researcher at the National Institute for Agricultural Technology in Argentina. “His projects were the first to use spatial statistical techniques to evaluate spatial yield monitor data; the first to be published which analyzed field-scale yield monitor data with spatial statistical techniques; the first to evaluate the whole-farm profitability of adopting GPS guidance technology; and the first on-farm trials which evaluated the actual nutrient application savings and yield increases from grid and zone soil sampling.”

Lowenberg-Deboer was instrumental in creating the Site Specific Management Center (SSMC) at Purdue University, which he directed until his promotion to Director of International Programs. SSMC is still known internationally as one of the most complete resources for information about precision farming. When he took over leadership of the Top Farmer Crop Workshop in 2003, he added precision agriculture to the already “first in technology” workshop. Innovations at Top Farmer included the first demonstrations of GPS automated guidance, unmanned aerial vehicles, and yield monitor data analysis service. He coordinated and was an editor of the publication Precision Farming Profitability, which won the Quality of Communication Award for the American Society of Agronomy in 2001.

Lowenberg-DeBoer’s early economic analyses were critical for an industry that was still in its infancy and struggling to find its niche in production agriculture. While many were enamored with the technology and the gadgetry, Jess focused on the economic drivers.
“The results were humbling to some efforts but very supportive of others, but in all cases they were of intense interest to nearly everyone working in this field,” says Bongiovanni. “And not only were the results of interest, but the analysis process that Jess and his colleagues used moved the industry’s collective thinking process.”

“With his background as a journalist and his personal experience farming, Jess has had a knack for communicating economic insights about precision farming to a wide range of audiences,” noted Scott Swinton, professor of agricultural, food and resource economics, Michigan State University,

Lowenberg-Deboer has a Masters degree in agricultural economics from Cornell University and a Ph.D. in economics from Iowa State University. He joined the Purdue faculty in 1985, initially dividing his time between the West Lafayette campus and Purdue activities in West Africa, then returned to Purdue in 1992.

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