It is widely known that Bill Buckner’s vision, commitment and leadership have significantly contributed to the surge of national and international interest in soil health. In 2013, Bill spearheaded the Soil Renaissance (jointly led by Noble Foundation — now called the Noble Research Institute — and the Farm Foundation). At that time, the die was cast for Noble to emerge as a leading organization in the soil health movement under Bill’s stewardship.
While leading those efforts to identify key gaps and priorities in soil health, Bill frequently traveled to Washington, D.C., to ensure the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was informed, engaged and supportive. In the process, he brought the Noble Research Institute to USDA. With its national scale and farmer focus, USDA found a ready partner in Bill. Recognizing that national impact would require long-term commitment and leadership, in 2015, he then worked to establish the Soil Health Institute.
While leading these efforts, Bill made it abundantly clear that all who wanted to participate could do just that. Organic farmers, conventional farmers and ranchers, scientific associations, individual scientists, trade associations, private labs, and others were all given the opportunity with only one caveat: They must contribute their ideas and expertise with a guiding principle of working for the common good of all farmers and ranchers.
Those who know Bill know that he is driven to benefit the agricultural community. He is also drawn to the big challenges, challenges that most people would never dare tackle but that if effectively addressed could have far-reaching benefits. He does not shy away from difficult issues like conducting a national soil health assessment, establishing ecosystem service markets or understanding the effect of chemical inputs on the soil microbiome. Instead, he jumps in with both feet; and while describing a vision of what is possible, he inspires others to jump in too.
It may not be widely known, but it should be noted that one of the many reasons why Bill is so effective in leading the soil health movement is because he practices what he preaches. On family farms in Missouri and North Carolina, he experiments with cover crops and other soil-health-promoting practices, experiencing the same trial and error so often reported by other farmers. Through this process, he provides a level of ground-truthing that has always kept him focused on giving farmers the knowledge they need to make well-informed decisions appropriate for their own particular farms and their own personal situations.
It is difficult to imagine where the national soil health movement would be today if not for the visionary leadership of Bill Buckner. We, and future generations, owe a great deal of gratitude to Bill for all he has done to ignite and fuel this effort. While we celebrate his retirement with him, we are heartened to know that he will continue serving the agricultural community as an effective advocate for soil health, ensuring that his legacy, and indeed the legacy of Lloyd Noble, will continue well into the future.