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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.


Field to Market Vice President, Science and Research Allison Thomson

Allison Thomson is vice president, science and research at Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. Field to Market is a non-profit, multi-stakeholder organization that unites the commodity crop supply chain around common definitions, measurements and standards for sustainable agriculture.

Using environmental outcome and science-based metrics and benchmarks, Thomson works with Field to Market member organizations on measuring, benchmarking and working to reduce the environmental impact of U.S. farming.

Prior to joining Field to Market, she conducted research on the intersection of climate, energy and food systems where she focused on national and global implications of climate change impacts and solutions on agriculture and land use.

Thomson holds a bachelors from Carleton College and a masters in environmental management from Duke University.

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


Professor Barry L. Perryman

Barry L. Perryman is a professor of rangeland ecology and management in the Department of Agriculture, Veterinary and Rangeland Sciences at the University of Nevada-Reno.

Perryman has appeared on the front page of the Sunday edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, FOX News, National Geographic, and National Television of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan as a natural resource specialist, and he has received both gubernatorial and White House appointments, including the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board and the White House Council on Wildlife Policy.

His teaching and research represent a broad spectrum of interests, including sage grouse health and habitat, invasive species mitigation, sagebrush demography, wildfire rehabilitation, mined-land reclamation, and plant community dynamics.

Perryman has organized several international meetings and continues to work on research projects in central Asia and western China. Perryman is also an award-winning novelist and columnist, most recently receiving the Will Rogers Medallion for western humor.

Raised on a small Texas ranch, and with time spent as an oilfield roughneck, an administrator for a Fortune 100 oilfield service company and an academician, Perryman brings a unique and interesting perspective to natural resource management issues of the west.


Chef/Owner of ThinkFoodGroup José Andrés

Named one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” in both 2012 and 2018, and awarded “Outstanding Chef” and “Humanitarian of the Year” by the James Beard Foundation, José Andrés is an internationally-recognized culinary innovator, New York Times best-selling author, educator, television personality, humanitarian, and chef/owner of ThinkFoodGroup.

A pioneer of Spanish tapas in the United States, he is also known for his groundbreaking avant-garde cuisine and his award-winning group of more than 30 restaurants located throughout the country and beyond, ranging in a variety of
culinary experiences from a food truck to his multi-location vegetable-focused fast-casual Beefsteak, to world-class tasting menus like minibar by José Andrés and Somni, which have both earned two Michelin stars. Andrés is the only chef globally that has both two-star Michelin restaurants and four Bib Gourmands. As a naturalized citizen originally from Spain, Andrés has been a tireless advocate for immigration reform. In 2010, Andrés formed World Central
Kitchen, a non-profit that provides smart solutions to end hunger and poverty by using the power of food to empower communities and strengthen economies.

Notably, his team served over 3.6 million meals to the people of Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, an experience about which he wrote the bestselling book We Fed An Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time.

Andrés has earned numerous awards, including the 2015 National Humanities Medal.


Environmental Philosopher and PhD Candidate, Environmental Philosophy and Governance Jared L. Talley

Jared L. Talley is a doctoral candidate and engaged philosopher at Michigan State University with a focus in environmental philosophy and policy.

He is a multi-generation Idahoan, growing up with a close connection to the rivers, mountains and landscapes of the area which, in turn, fostered a deep appreciation for the responsible governance of the natural world. His research areas are in the philosophy of environmental governance, concentrating on the roles of science and community collaboration in environmental policy and management. To this end, Talley is focused on better understanding how diverse communities construct relationships to their environments, how policy programs interpret and manage for these relationships and how the nature of the ecological sciences provides opportunities and obstacles for environmental management.

Talley’s free time is spent outdoors, as well as building and fixing various artifacts.

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