Arbuckle, O’Neal Will Share Sustainable Agriculture Chair Position at Iowa State University

Daniel J. Robison, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Administration, 515-294-3830;
Ruth MacDonald, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Administration, 515-294-5991;
Andy Zehr, Agriculture and Life Sciences Communications, 515-294-9123;
Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

April 3, 2023

AMES, Iowa – J. Arbuckle, professor in sociology and criminal justice, and Matthew O’Neal, professor in plant pathology, entomology and microbiology, will serve a joint appointment as Henry A. Wallace Chairs for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, starting May 15, 2023.

The Wallace Chair provides leadership to develop and implement major educational and research programs on the sustainability of current and future agricultural practices.

“J. and Matt were selected because of their complementary visions to support and enable undergraduate education in this arena,” said Daniel J. Robison, holder of the endowed dean’s chair in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, on announcing their appointments. They are both committed to furthering experience and discovery in the many realms of sustainable agriculture and related sciences, technologies, policy and economics. Agricultural sustainability at all scales is a unifying and common thread across the college. Through these positions, Matt and J. will add further dimensions to that work.”

The Wallace Chair comes with special resources from an endowment supported by the W.K Kellogg Foundation and the Wallace Genetic Foundation, in collaboration from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the ISU Foundation. The Iowa State chairs are part of a network of sustainability fellows around the country who hold Kellogg-sponsored positions.

J. Arbuckle has extensive research and extension efforts focused on improving the environmental and social performance of agricultural systems. He is director of the long-standing annual Iowa Farm and Rural Life Poll and is nationally recognized for work studying the drivers of farm stakeholder decision making related to soil and water quality and adaptation to climate change.

Arbuckle said one of his first priorities as Wallace Chair will be to conduct research to gain perspectives from key private and public stakeholders on what Iowa State is doing well in the realm of sustainable agriculture, how it can improve, and what related skills and knowledge respondents want future employees to have.

This will build on a recent project he helped lead to assess student interest in sustainability and their related experiences at Iowa State. That survey found strong, widespread interest in sustainability, along with perceptions that the university’s academic and extracurricular programs could better prepare them in this area.

“The results of the stakeholder engagement process will provide direction for new programs and to enhance the integration of sustainability concepts into what is already being offered here,” Arbuckle said. He is also interested in sharing ideas and experience with other Wallace Chair scholars around the country.

He came to Iowa State in 2007 from the University of Missouri, Columbia, where he earned a doctorate in rural sociology and a master’s degree in agricultural economics. He also has a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from Guilford College, Greensboro, North Carolina.

Matthew O’Neal came to Iowa State in 2004 and oversees research related to the management of insect pests of annual crops, with a focus on soybeans. He also teaches courses in entomology and sustainable agriculture. His overall goal has been to help develop pest management programs that are economically and environmentally sustainable.

O’Neal has a doctorate in entomology from Michigan State University, East Lansing, and a master’s degree in entomology and bachelor’s degree in Biology, both from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

“The Wallace Chair role will give us the opportunity to provide leadership to create a new undergraduate program in sustainability and food systems that can provide expanded options for our students in terms of career readiness and research,” O’Neal said. “Iowa State was the first university to create a graduate program in sustainable agriculture. That program has a strong reputation and provides a foundation for an undergraduate degree program.”

O’Neal plans to continue his research and teaching and his involvement in pollinator conservation projects as Wallace Chair. He is especially excited about a new research effort he’s helping lead to explore the emerging field of agrivoltaics—combining agricultural enterprises with solar energy—through a public-private partnership with Alliant Energy and funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.

“One thing I have to say about this new appointment is that I didn’t get here by myself,” O’Neal said. “All along the way, the projects I’ve been part of that have been the most impactful have been as part of teams. I know J. feels similarly. Together we have worked with a broad community of faculty and staff, students and outside organizations that have supported and influenced our work. I expect these relationships to be even more important as Wallace Chairs.”

Arbuckle and O’Neal both said they already have positive experience working together on interdisciplinary and multi-institutional projects—including the prairie STRIPS program and as faculty leaders for the Graduate Program for Sustainable Agriculture—and they look forward to opportunities to collaborate more closely.

The Henry A. Wallace Endowed Chair for Sustainable Agriculture was established to promote the philosophical and practical ideas of Iowan Henry A. Wallace, former U.S. secretary of agriculture, and commerce, U.S. vice president, co-founder of Pioneer Hi-Bred, communicator, scientist and farmer. The chair honors Wallace's commitment to the wise use of science and public policy to protect natural resources and farmland, enhance vibrant and enduring rural communities and alleviate global poverty and hunger. Former Wallace Chairs at Iowa State have been Matt Liebman (2007–2022) and Lorna Michael Butler (2000–2007).

The new Wallace Chairs were selected by an interdepartmental search committee led by CALS Dean Daniel Robison, with Stephen Dinsmore, interim director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Matt Helmers, director of the Iowa Nutrient Research Center, Ajay Nair, program director for the Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture, and Asheesh (Danny) Singh, professor, agronomy.