Remembering Bill Northey

Remembering Bill Northey
Feb 09, 2024

The ag industry leader passed away on Feb. 5

By Diego Flammini
Staff Writer

A notable figure in the U.S. ag community has passed away.

Bill Northey, who served as Iowa ag secretary for 11 years from 2007 to 2018, passed away suddenly on Feb. 5. He was 64, his obituary says.

A fourth-generation producer, Northey and his family farmed in Spirit Lake where they grew corn and soybeans.

And he was one of the first producers in Iowa to adopt cover crops.

“He walked the walk,” Sean McMahon, executive director of the Iowa Agriculture Water Alliance, which helps farmers adopt conservation efforts, told the Des Moines Register. “His mantra was, ‘It’s voluntary but not optional.’”

Many in the ag sector knew Northey for his advocacy and policy work.

During his time as Iowa’s ag secretary, for example, Northey guided farmers through the 2015 bird flu outbreak, lobbied for additional resources and even attended a support prayer supper with farmers.

“It’s important to do what you’re doing tonight. And that’s put your arms around the folks that went through this, let them know how much you care,” Northey told Iowa Public Radio in June 2015. “We’ll get through this.”

He was a past president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, and from 1995 to 1996 served as president of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA).

“We are deeply saddened by Bill Northey’s untimely passing,” Harold Wolle, current NCGA president, said in a statement. “Our staff and leaders worked very closely with Bill, as did our Iowa corn growers, and we all agree that he was not only an incredibly kind human being but also an effective advocate who worked his way up to some of the highest echelons of government. He made a difference for the agricultural community every step of the way. His loss will be felt deeply from the halls of D.C. to the fields of the Midwest.”

He translated those experiences into work at the federal level, when in 2017 President Trump nominated Northey to be the Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, a position that became the Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation.

He held that position from 2018 to 2021.

Most recently, Northey was the CEO of the Agribusiness Association of Iowa, which represents businesses that supply feed, seed, crop protection products and other services.

Since Northey’s passing, multiple people who knew him or interacted with him have shared tributes and messages.

“This week's passing of former #Iowa Ag Secretary and USDA head Bill Northey is a great loss. He was a tireless advocacy for the agriculture community across the US, and will be sorely missed. #AgPartners,” wrote Beth Richardson, Canada’s consul general in the upper Midwest.

“He was a really nice man,” Ross Peterson, an Iowa radio host, posted on X. “It poured out of him. And he was a passionate promoter of all things Iowa. We were lucky to have a man like this in a leadership role for so long.”

“We grew up in neighboring counties, and he was one of the first friends I made as a young activist,” Bryan English, the executive director of the Church Ambassador Network of Texas, posted online. “Bill set an example of service and character that is a model for anyone in politics or government.

Services will be held at Valley Church in West Des Moines on Feb. 10 at 3pm. A meal at the Oman Youth Inn will follow.

Northey’s family is asking people to consider making a donation to GoServ Global or the Bill Northey Memorial Fund in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University.

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