Soil heroes: A celebration of women in soil science

(Kara Oosterhuis/RealAgriculture)

Trying to tackle the enormity that is recognizing leading women in agriculture left me so overwhelmed, I ended up being unable to even begin to write or interview. In order to overcome the inertia, I decided instead to focus on one aspect of the industry and tip the hat to some notable scientists who also happen to be women. This year, I chose to focus on soil scientists.

Why, you may ask?

Well, two things: one, soil is super cool and I’ll take any chance I get to highlight the incredible work done on the topic, and, two, a recent article out of the U.S. listed “Legends” in no-till…and the list was, well, overwhelmingly male, and it gave me pause. Yes, sure, the topic was no-till, not soil in general, but the apparent complete lack of women in the industry didn’t sit well with me. So, I give you a not-nearly-complete list of, as Don Flaten puts it, “lots of outstanding women who are soil scientists, and lots of outstanding soil scientists who are women.” Special thanks to former colleague Lara de Moissac for her nods, too.

I know I’ve missed some key names, here, and the intention was not to be definitive, but to acknowledge. If you have a suggestion for the list, please, add them by commenting below or by sending me an email at [email protected], and I’ll be sure to add them. A Twitter handle or job title is nice to have, too!

Soil sheroes, in no particular order (plenty of these women are Doctors, however, we’re including the honorific based on whether or not they included it in public profiles):

  • Ontario’s own Dr. Laura Van Eerd. Check out her podcast episode here.
  • Kris Nichols: Kris’s name is, apparently, an acronym for Knowledge for Regeneration and Innovation In Soil — need we say more?
  • Canadian Agriculture Hall of Famer Dr. Cynthia Grant
  • Dr. Angela Bedard-Haughn, dean and professor at the University of Saskatchewan
  • Dr. Barbara Cade-Menun, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research scientist at Swift Current. Internationally recognized for her research in nutrient forms and cycling in soils, and how that affects the risk of nutrient loss, particularly phosphorus loss to surface water
  • Dr. J. Diane Knight, professor and Strategic Research Chair in Soil Biological Processes
  • Dr. Anne Naeth, professor at the University of Alberta
  • Anne Verhallen, soil management specialist with Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs. She also has very weird props when joining us on The Agronomists.
  • Dr. Bobbi Helgason, associate professor in soil microbiology
  • Dr. Noura Ziadi, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada research scientist, based at Ste. Foy, Quebec.
  • Marla Riekman, soil management specialist for Manitoba Agriculture, and a Soil Sleuth
  • Dr. Maja Krzic,  associate professor of soil science with UBC, and one of the lead authors for the online textbook for soil science in Canada Digging into Canadian Soils
  • Dr. Fran Walley, Associate Dean (Academic), College of Agriculture and Bioresources, University of Saskatchewan
  • Dr. Jane Elliott, Environment Canada, Saskatoon — a quiet but superb and highly respected researcher who investigates the impacts of agricultural practices on water quality. She has been at the forefront of evaluating beneficial management practices for cold environments (i.e. the Canadian Prairies)
  • Dr. Claudia Wagner-Riddle, professor at the University of Guelph
  • Dr. Joann Whalen, professor at McGill University  and now president of the American Society of Agronomy for 2023
  • Jill Clapperton, who is “crazy about soil” and one of the few who also made the no-till legends list
  • Dr. Yvonne Lawley, who is leading the charge on cover crops in Western Canada’s cropping systems

Editor’s note: Thank you to those who have added these names: