The ag world lost a giant when Bill Northey passed away Feb. 5 at the age of 64. The former Iowa Ag Secretary and Trump administration USDA leader made a tremendous impact during his career on the issues of soil conservation, water quality and renewable energy in the state of Iowa and beyond.

We were lucky enough to have him deliver the keynote presentation at the 2015 National Strip-Tillage Conference in Coralville, Iowa. Northey talked about how to apply science and technology to conservation tillage practices. 

“We have to prove to the public that we can do these things better than government can do these things and that we know more about managing this stuff than some bureaucrat knows who’s maybe never been to a farm,” Northey told attendees at the conference, referring to the efforts farmers have been taking to reduce nitrate runoff on their farms.

The fourth-generation farmer was a ridge-tiller before transitioning to strip-till and banded fertilizer. Strip-till shortened his spring and fall, allowing him to do his “other job” well, Northey said. During his presentation, he recalled the emotion that comes with farming and passing down a legacy of conservation — emotion that the general public often doesn’t see.

“I remember one of the first years we had the Century and Heritage Farm Awards, we had a guy in his 80s coming across the stage using a walker. This is the kind of guy who stands at the gate and locks eyes with the heifer that thinks she's coming through that gate and she turns," Northey recalled. "So, he's coming across, and I say, 'Congratulations.’ He looks up, and his eyes are all damp, and he said, 'I got the 5th generation of my family with me, and they say they're going to farm, too.' And he couldn't say anything more, and he didn't need to. People are telling us those folks won't do what's right for their farm. These folks will do anything. Give us the tools, give us the chance. Don't tell us that you know better than we do what to do out there. Now we got to make sure the rest of the world knows this because that's a secret to folks." 

Listening back to Northey’s presentation, the points he made on that stage in 2015 remain relevant almost a decade later. His message lives on in the No-Till Farmer podcast below — a replay of his 2015 National Strip-Tillage Conference keynote presentation. I strongly encourage you to take 30 minutes out of your day and give it a listen as we continue to honor Northey’s legacy and the impact he had on conservation agriculture.

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