Scientists honor sustainable farming research leaders

Scientists honor farmers: Kim Leval (left) and John Doran (right) present the Seventh Generation Research Award to sustainable farming luminaries Sharon and Dick Thompson recently in “Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy American Society of Agronomy)

Dick and Sharon Thompson of Boone, Iowa, were recognized recently for their leadership in developing scientifically valid on-farm research, and for their many collaborative efforts with crop, soil and agronomy scientists.

Presenting the award were Kim Leval, senior federal policy analyst for the Center for Rural Affairs, which co-sponsored the award (this year, a plaque and $500 gift) with the Consortium for Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (CSARE). Assisting her was John Doran, a past president of the Soil Society of America, who developed a personal relationship with the Iowa couple while did research on their farm.

The Thompson join the ranks of two earlier winners: Crop Production Specialist Chuck Francis of University of Nebraska- Lincoln and Fred Kirschenmann, farmer and executive director of the Aldo Leopold Center.

The award came at a joint meeting in Washington, D.C., of the “tri-societies”(American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America). The Thompsons knew many specialists in the audience because of academics’ work over the years on their Iowa farm.

Leval said the award is designed to raise the level of awareness about what systems- and sustainable agriculture research mean, and to encourage on-farm research, innovative partnerships with farmers or non-profit organizations, and multidisciplinary approaches.

Giving the award to a farm couple raises the awareness that there are different types of knowledge that can be credible, and that farmers are researchers too -- and can add a richness to our knowledge base about soil, crops, pests and farm systems. Leval noted that farmers can add this knowledge from place-based experience over long periods of time observing how their farming system works.