2019 Annual Meeting Speakers

Confirmed Speakers

Texas Deputy Secretary of State Joe Esparza

Texas deputy secretary of state, Jose A. “Joe” Esparza, was sworn into office on Dec. 14, 2018. Previously, he served in the office of Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

Esparza earned a bachelor’s degree from Texas Tech University and served in the U.S. Marine Corps. Esparza will provide 2019 Annual Meeting attendees with a Texas host state welcome during Monday morning’s general session.

Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hall

Dale Hall is the Chief Executive Officer of Ducks Unlimited, Inc., America’s leading wetlands and waterfowl conservation group. Hall joined the 80-year-old conservation organization in May 2010, bringing with him a vast expanse of conservation knowledge and experience. In addition to owning his own natural resources consulting company, Hall spent more than 30 years with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), with the last three as its director, appointed by President George W. Bush. He previously served in several capacities with the USFWS such as regional director for the Southwest Region in Albuquerque, N.M., and deputy assistant director for fisheries in Washington, D.C. Hall has a bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry from Cumberland College in Williamsburg, Ky., and a master’s degree in fisheries science from Louisiana State University. He is the author of numerous published papers on wetlands, fisheries ecology and other topics. Hall will provide a keynote address during Monday’s general session.

EPIC Provisions Co-Founders Taylor Collins and Katie Forrest

Katie Forrest and Taylor Collins are the co-founders of EPIC Provisions, the mission-based brand making humanely-raised, animal-based snacks that improve the welfare of those animals, promote the health of humans, and support regenerative agriculture practices to restore the land.

Together, they launched EPIC in Austin, Texas, in 2013 with the first-ever 100 percent grass-fed bison meat bar to be debuted on the market. The brand quickly grew to be the leading provider of premium animal-based products, revolutionizing the food industry and improving the environment through responsible sourcing. Their success has inspired and led a revolution in the industry through their exclusive use of transparent, premium ingredients sourced from farmers and ranchers with humane animal and aspirationally regenerative practices.

Since EPIC was acquired by General Mills in 2016, Forrest and Collins have maintained their involvement in the brand, helping expand the message EPIC was founded on alongside other General Mills brands, such as Annie’s and Cascadian Farm. Recently, Forrest and Collins purchased their very own regenerative field laboratory, ROAM Ranch. A regenerative agriculture initiative and multispecies operation outside of Austin, the ranch is now home to 70+ bison, 300+ chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese and more. In 2018, Forrest and Collins were awarded with Savory Institute’s Frontier Founder Award in recognition of their commitment to regenerative sourcing. Forrest and Collins will provide the keynote address during Monday’s Leadership Luncheon.

NRCS Chief Matthew Lohr
Matthew Lohr was appointed to serve as chief of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in December of 2018. In this role, Lohr oversees the 3,000 NRCS field offices and their employees across the nation. Lohr was raised in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley on a century farm and now operates Valley Pike Farm, Inc., with his wife Beth and their six children. He previously served in Virginia’s House of Delegates from 2006-2010 and as Virginia’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services from 2010 to 2013. In recent years, Lohr worked as knowledge center director for Farm Credit of the Virginias and has been farming full-time on the family operation since June 2017, raising poultry, beef cattle, row crops and sweet corn. Lohr will address meeting attendees during Tuesday’s general session and will announce the winners of the 2018 Earth Team Award.

NAFB President Lorrie Boyer

National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB) President Lorrie Boyer will be the emcee of the 2019 NACD Annual Meeting. NAFB is an established liaison between farm broadcasters and the agriculture community made up of producers, companies, agencies and associations like NACD, and NACD holds a monthly interview with Boyer. She will serve as the emcee for Monday’s Live Auction and Tuesday’s Appreciation Banquet, and she will also moderate the soil health and urban agriculture conservation panels held during Tuesday’s general session.

SHI President and CEO Dr. Wayne Honeycutt

Soil Health Institute (SHI) President and CEO Dr. Wayne Honeycutt will address the 2019 NACD Annual Meeting attendees during Tuesday’s general session. As a leader in the soil health movement, Honeycutt will describe emerging issues and resources for soil health, as well as partnership opportunities for conservation districts. At SHI, Honeycutt leads the Institute’s programs to safeguard and enhance the vitality and productivity of soils. He previously served for five years as deputy chief for science and technology with NRCS in Washington, D.C.; 10 years as a research leader and 14 years as a research soil scientist for the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS). Honeycutt holds a bachelors degree in forestry, a masters degree in soil science and a Ph.D. in soil genesis.


Soil Health Partnership Executive Director Dr. Shefali Mehta

Shefali Mehta is executive director of the Soil Health Partnership. Growing up in New England, she had a fascination with plants from early in her childhood. Through her higher education and work with agriculture throughout the U.S. and the world, she followed her passion, launching a notable career as an agricultural and environmental economist.

Mehta received her Ph.D. in agricultural and applied economics, and a master’s degree in statistics, from the University of Minnesota. Mehta is the co-founder and CEO of an agricultural technology start-up, Ceres Wave, and also founded and leads Open Rivers Consulting Associates. She is a past Vice Chairwoman of Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever, and serves on other boards, including those at the Minnesota Invasive Terrestrial Plants and Pests Center, the School of Statistics at the University of Minnesota, and Compatible Technology International.

Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN Senior Director of Sustainability Jason Weller

Jason Weller is the senior director of sustainability for Land O’Lakes Inc’s SUSTAIN business unit. SUSTAIN was created in 2016 to assist American farmers and agricultural retailers in making on-farm conservation decisions from technology to management to drive sustainability across the food system.

Weller formerly served as chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and has also served on the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, the U.S. House Budget Committee, and the White House Office of Management and Budget. Weller earned a bachelor’s degree from Carleton College in Minnesota and a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Michigan. Weller will participate in the Tuesday General Session’s Soil Health Panel with Dr. Wayne Honeycutt, Dr. Shefali Mehta and Jimmy Emmons.

NACD Soil Health Champion Jimmy Emmons

Jimmy Emmons and his wife Ginger farm 2,000 acres in Leedey, Okla., and have one son, Beau. Jimmy’s family has farmed for over a century, and he joined the fray in 1980. His third-generation operation includes a rotation of wheat, canola, rye, sunflowers, peas, soybeans, milo, sesame and alfalfa, as well as a cow-calf operation. Emmons also serves on the board of the Dewey County Conservation District and is the current president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts. Emmons will bring a producer’s perspective of soil health to the Tuesday General Session’s Soil Health Panel.

Come Up Project Executive Director Abiodun Henderson

Abiodun Henderson is the founder and executive director of the Atlanta-based start-up the Come Up Project, which helps former offenders and at risk youth learn holistic life skills. The Come Up Project has created its first entrepreneurial business training program called Gangstas to Growers. The agriculture-based Gangstas to Growers (G2G) Cooperative produces a hot sauce, “Sweet Sol”, made in cooperation with farmers of the SWAG Cooperative and West Georgia’s Farmer’s Cooperative. The G2G trainees utilize the cooperative to produce everything needed for the hot sauce, which is sold to local restaurants and at farmers markets.

Henderson has served as a community organizer in Westside Atlanta for over four years and has experience in running grassroots farming programs, empowering those living in traditionally underserved communities. Under her leadership as garden coordinator, the Westview Community Garden is now community-owned after being bulldozed in 2015. Besides working to reduce recidivism in Westside Atlanta by employing at-risk youth and formerly incarcerated individuals, Henderson is a member of SWAG Cooperative, which aims to create a transformative, environmentally and culturally responsible Atlanta food system that contributes to a robust quality of life for its farmers and community. Henderson will participate in Tuesday morning’s urban agriculture conservation panel during the general session.

Prince George’s Soil Conservation District, Maryland, District Manager Steven Darcey

Steven Darcey is the district manager for the Prince George’s Soil Conservation District in Upper Marlboro, Md., where he was born and raised. A fourth-generation farmer, Darcey served as an engineer for the district for 27 years before becoming district manager in 2013. Darcey is also an NACD Soil Health Champion (the first in the state of Maryland) and will participate in Tuesday morning’s urban agriculture conservation panel during the general session.

Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association President Andrew Smiley

Andrew Smiley is president of the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and is based in Austin, Texas. Smiley has 25 years of experience working in sustainable agriculture and food systems. He began his career in Louisiana, focusing on advocacy for organic agriculture. Smiley has served as executive director of the Baton Rouge Economic and Agricultural Development Alliance, where he oversaw program planning and operations of the organization’s multi-location farmers markets and the development of a public market as part of a downtown revitalization effort.

Smiley worked with the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group to manage an electronic communications and marketing training program for farmers before moving to Austin, Texas. In Texas, he worked with the Sustainable Food Center starting in 2005, serving as farm direct projects manager, program director and deputy director. Smiley became involved with the Texas Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association through management of the Farm Aid Disaster Relief fund after Hurricane Harvey, and now serves as president of the organization. Smiley will serve as a panelist for Tuesday morning’s urban agriculture conservation panel during the general session.

Jomo & The Possum Posse

The Greatest Band in the World. Possibly Ever.

Best known for the wildly popular viral video series, Guy On A Buffalo, Jomo & The Possum Posse have made a name for themselves with their unique blend of cynicism, dead-eyed soul and anti-machismo honky-tonk. Their cult video series has surpassed 30 million views, garnering national attention from NPR’s All Things Considered, Forbes, G4’s Attack of the Show, and a slew of major media outlets. The band is led by Jomo Edwards, whose award-wining lyrics tend to skate the line between the sardonic and the arcane. Over the past decade, Jomo & The Possum Posse has established itself as one of the most talented, fresh and cerebrally-entertaining live acts around.

Their latest studio album, Local Motive was released in 2016. And in 2018, the band was selected Best of Fest at FronteraFest, the long-running Austin Fringe Festival. Their original composition, New Directions, was their first foray into fringe theater and featured a mix of original music and comedy. The group’s latest release, LIVE AT THE HIGHBALL on Get Off My Lawn Records features 18 tracks and captures the energy of the band’s live shows. Recorded at The Highball (Alamo Drafthouse) on South Lamar in Austin, the band performed a significant portion of its set synchronized to video projected on a massive screen behind them.

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