2020 Annual Meeting Speakers

Confirmed Speakers

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 be providing the closing keynote address on Tuesday, Feb. 11, during the general session. He will also be presenting the 2019 Earth Team Award, Olin Sims Award and Hugh Hammond Bennett Awards for Conservation Excellence during Tuesday night’s Appreciation Banquet.

RFD Radio Network Director and NAFB President Rita Frazer

Rita Frazer has been director of network and audio services for the RFD Radio Network and the Illinois Farm Bureau since January 2015. As director, she is responsible for the management and administration of the RFD Radio Network. Rita is also a full-time farm broadcaster, joining DeLoss Jahnke in producing and distributing more than a dozen programs each weekday used by more than 80 Illinois radio stations. Previously, Frazer served as network anchor/broadcast editor for RFD.

Frazer was elected the national president for the National Association of Farm Broadcasting (NAFB) in November 2019.

FFAR Scientific Program Director Dr. LaKisha Odom

Dr. LaKisha Odom is a scientific program director at the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) where she pursues her commitment to promoting the use of innovative science, collective impact and the development of public-private partnerships to tackle today’s complex challenges in food and agriculture. She is also extremely committed to cultivating increased diversity in a new generation of food and agriculture scientists.

At FFAR, Dr. Odom spearheads the scientific direction of the Soil Health challenge area, and manages a portfolio of projects that address issues in sustainable water management, plant efficiency, ecosystem services, crop pest and disease detection, while also developing the next generation of food and agricultural leaders.

Dr. Odom received her B.S. in environmental science from Tuskegee University, her M.A. in environmental resource policy from The George Washington University and her Ph.D. in integrative biosciences from Tuskegee University. Dr. Odom will participate on a panel during the Tuesday morning General Session featuring innovative foundations who fund conservation.

NFWF Senior Director of Government Relations Dave Gagner

Dave Gagner began his career working on ethanol and oxygenated fuels issues while consulting and representing clients on the state, federal, corporate and nonprofit levels. He worked for the National Association of Conservation Districts from 1999 through 2001 as Director of Government Affairs with a specific focus on the 2002 Farm Bill and developing the association’s grassroots system. Gagner worked for Ducks Unlimited as their lead agriculture representative from 2001-2003, where he was one of the primary authors/partners leading the conservation community’s efforts on passage of the largest conservation title of all time.

Following his time at DU, Gagner went to serve as Chief of Staff at the Natural Resources Conservation Service from 2003-2006. He was a member of the management/leadership team responsible for a staff of nearly 12,500 employees, and a $4 billion budget. He served in a variety of roles within the Department, including the Department of Agriculture’s Representative on critical issues such as wetlands, wildlife, drought, Klamath Basin, biofuels, climate change, and preparation for the next farm bill’s conservation title. Gagner is currently the Senior Director of Government Relations at the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. He is primarily focused on private/agricultural/working lands conservation for the Foundation. Gagner graduated from Bowling Green State University in 1992 with a BA in Political Science focused on Environmental Policy and was in the U.S. Army serving in the 4th Infantry Division.

Gagner will participate on a panel during the Tuesday morning General Session featuring innovative foundations who fund conservation.

WFF Program Officer Amy Saltzman

Amy Saltzman is a program officer for the Walton Family Foundation’s (WFF) Mississippi River initiative. In this role, she works with grantees to improve water quality in the Mississippi River basin by expanding the use of conservation practices in conventional agriculture systems. WFF’s Mississippi River strategy focuses on aligning policy and market incentives to encourage farmers to adopt practices that improve water quality, build soil health and reduce pollution across the basin, while continuing to meet the growing demand for food.

Prior to WFF, Saltzman was a senior program analyst for an international agriculture and nutrition project, HarvestPlus, at the International Food Policy Research Institute. She has also worked as a policy coordinator at the Rural Coalition and was a Fulbright fellow in Malawi, where she studied smallholder farmer behavior change.

Saltzman grew up on a farm in southwest Iowa. She holds a B.A. in government and development sociology from Cornell University and an M.P.A. from the University of Colorado, School of Public Affairs.

Saltzman will be joining NFWF’s Dave Gagner and FFAR’s Dr. LaKisha Odom for a panel discussion during Tuesday’s general session on innovative foundations that fund conservation.

Cargill Global Row Crop Sustainability Director Ryan Sirolli

Ryan Sirolli is the global row crop sustainability director for Cargill. In his role, he is responsible for leading strategy development and implementation of row crop sustainability programs and initiatives across Cargill’s enterprises. Focus areas include optimizing farmer productivity and prosperity while lessening impact on water and climate through scalable adoption of soil health best practices and supply chain alignment.

Sirolli has spent his entire career working along the food and agriculture value chain. His experiences range from managing a row crop and beef operation in Maryland to creating integrated supply chain solutions between dairy producers, growers and consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies. Most recently, he has led the launch of a soil health program at a global FMCG before returning to Cargill to lead row crop sustainability within Cargill’s Sustainability Hub. Sirolli holds received his B.S. in animal science from Virginia Tech and an M.S. in economics from the University of Delaware.

Sirolli will be speaking on an industry innovation panel during Tuesday morning’s general session.

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 be speaking on an industry innovation panel during Tuesday morning’s general session.

General Mills Applied Sustainability Manager Jeff Hanratty

Jeff Hanratty is an applied sustainability manager at General Mills, based in Minneapolis, Minn. He is accountable for the company’s Green House Gas (GHG) footprint and for creating a path to reduce it. He also manages the company’s water footprint and for collaborating with others to see sustainability improvements in priority watersheds by activating upon the business’s packaging ambition and integrating eco-design into the go-to-market process for their products to affect all of the above.

Hanratty began his career at General Mills in 1999. He holds a bachelors in civil engineering from the University of Minnesota and a masters in environmental health and safety management from Rochester Institute of Technology.

Hanratty will be speaking on an industry innovation panel during Tuesday morning’s general session.

ESMC Executive Director Debbie Reed

Debbie Reed is the executive director of the Ecosystems Services Market Consortium (ESMC) where she has worked on this project and its activities since its inception. She has focused on Green House Gas (GHG) mitigation and ecosystem services from the agricultural sector since 1997, having worked at the White House Council on Environmental Quality as the director of legislative affairs and agricultural policy; and in the U.S. Senate as a senior staff member on natural resource and agricultural issues for U.S. Senator Robert Kerrey of Nebraska.

Previously, Reed held numerous leadership positions at the U.S.D.A., including special assistant to the Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education and Economics, and special assistant to the Administrator of the Agricultural Research Service. Her work at USDA included serving on multiple bi-national commissions on agricultural science and technology, and as the USDA executive secretariat for the US Dietary Guidelines for Americans. She has graduate and undergraduate degrees in human nutrition/dietetics, chemistry and communications.

Reed will moderate a panel during Tuesday morning’s general session featuring innovative foundations who fund conservation.

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