Chad Ellis assumed the role of Chief Executive Officer of the Texas Agricultural Land Trust in March of 2020, leading the organization in its mission to conserve the Texas heritage of agricultural lands, wildlife habitats and natural resources. Prior to that, Ellis served as Industry Relations and Stewardship Manager at the Noble Research Institute (NRI) in Ardmore, Oklahoma, where he focused on the important role of stewardship in agriculture production for long-term sustainability in our country and created opportunities for the advancement of stewardship principles. He first came to NRI in 2012 as a pasture and range consultant, working directly with agricultural producers in the southern Oklahoma area. Previously, he spent 10 years working with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI), as regional rangeland management specialist for the 15 central states. Ellis also served as a district conservationist in Texas and state range conservationist in Florida.
Ellis not only promotes and advocates land stewardship principles, he also implements it within his own family operation in Lohn, Texas. Mr. Ellis is passionate on helping empower the producer to be better tomorrow than they are today. He provides this passion and leadership as chairman of the National Grazing Lands Coalition (NatGLC), a producer lead organization. NatGLC supports voluntary ecologically and economically sound management of all grazing lands for their adaptive uses and multiple benefits to the environment and society through science based technical assistance, research and education.
Wayne Honeycutt, Ph.D. is President and CEO of the Soil Health Institute, where he leads the Institute’s programs to safeguard and enhance the vitality and productivity of soils. He previously served for 5 years as Deputy Chief for Science and Technology with the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service in Washington, DC, where he led programs in technology acquisition, development, and transfer to ensure NRCS conservation practices reflect the latest scientific advances for conserving the nation’s soil, water, air, plant, animal, and energy resources. He served as a Research Soil Scientist for 14 years and a Research Leader for 10 years with the USDA-Agricultural Research Service in Orono, Maine, where he led and conducted interdisciplinary research on carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus cycling and sustainable cropping systems development. In those roles he led national research teams for predicting nutrient availability, developed procedures adopted by ARS for enhancing national research coordination, and received regional and national awards for technology transfer.
He is a graduate of the “Mastering the Art of Public Leadership” executive development program at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC and USDA’s “Performance Excellence and Knowledge” executive development program. He has served on assignments to the U.S. Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, USDA-ARS National Program Staff, and USDA-ARS Area Office Staff.
Wayne’s commitment to agriculture is rooted in his experiences with raising tobacco, corn, and other crops on his family’s 120-acre farm in Kentucky. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Forestry and a Master’s degree in Soil Science from the University of Kentucky, and a Ph.D. in Soil Genesis from Colorado State University. He was the 2018 recipient of the Hugh Hammond Bennett Award, the highest honor bestowed on an individual by the Soil and Water Conservation Society.
Kris Johnson, Ph.D. is the Deputy Director for the North America Agriculture Program of The Nature Conservancy. In this role he leads efforts to integrate science into collaborations with public and private partners to catalyze conservation and improved agricultural management across North America. Prior to joining The Nature Conservancy, Kris was the Sustainability Scientist at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. He received a bachelor’s degree from Bowdoin College and an MS and PhD in Conservation Biology from the University of Minnesota, where his dissertation research focused on ecosystem services in agriculture. Kris was a Fulbright Scholar, a MacArthur Scholar, and remains a Senior Fellow in Sustainable Agricultural Systems at the University of Minnesota.
Bruce Knight is Principal and Founder of Strategic Conservation Solutions. He is a nationally recognized expert on conservation, agriculture and the environment. Bruce was the Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from 2006-2009. In this post, he provided leadership and oversight for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the Agricultural Marketing Service and the Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration. These agencies protect animals and plants and promote fair, open and orderly markets for U.S. agricultural products. Safeguarding America’s flocks, fields and forests from pests and diseases is worth billions of dollars in losses avoided by farmers and ranchers. From 2002 to 2006, Bruce served as Chief of NRCS. During the nearly five years under his leadership, the agency assisted 1 million farmers and ranchers in applying conservation on more than 130 million acres of working farm and ranchlands. Bruce provided the strategic vision for the development, implementation and management of the largest expansion of working lands conservation programs in the agency’s history. A third-generation rancher and farmer and lifelong conservationist, Bruce operates a diversified grain and cattle operation using no-till and rest rotation grazing systems. His farming and ranching background gives him the opportunity to practice stewardship and husbandry, providing firsthand knowledge of the interdependency of animal, plant and human health with the environment.
Mary Jane Melendez is Chief Sustainability and Social Impact Officer for General Mills. She also serves as President of the General Mills Foundation.
Mary Jane stewards the company’s sustainability and philanthropy efforts, working closely with Supply Chain, Sourcing, the Foundation and other key business leaders to develop, coordinate and execute programs to achieve companywide targets. Mary Jane is responsible for advancing collaboration to drive change by promoting environmentally and socially responsible practices across our entire value chain, from farm to fork and beyond. Her role combines accountability for taking care of our planet and nourishing our communities to amplify the impact of General Mills as a global force for good. Mary Jane serves on the boards of Partners in Food Solutions and the Saint Paul and Minnesota Community Foundation.
Mary Jane’s strategic business leadership was recently recognized by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal as a 2018 40 Under 40 Award Winner. She was named one of Latino Leaders’ Top Latina Executives in Corporate America in 2018. Mary Jane earned both her MBA and bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN.
Tim Palmer is the current President of NACD and operates a 1,200-acre row crop and cow/calf to finish operation near Truro, Iowa. He has served on the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District’s board since 2003, and has held the titles of director, vice president and 2010-2011 president of the Conservation Districts of Iowa, the state’s district association.
Gary Price and his wife Sue ranch near Blooming Grove, Texas in the Blackland Prairie region of north central Texas. They run a primarily native grassland cow-calf operation combined with a recreational enterprise focusing on waterfowl hunting and fishing. Gary and Sue are involved in numerous efforts to sustain their landscape from work with neighbors and partners on the Western Navarro Bobwhite Restoration Initiative to efforts aimed at bridging the urban-rural divide such as the Water as a Crop initiative bringing together government, industry and landowners in an effort to improve water quality in the Trinity River basin. Gary is very active, often in a leadership role, in other agricultural and conservation organizations including National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Texas & Southwester Cattle Raisers Association, Texas Section Society Range Management, Texas Grazing Lands Coalition, Park Cities Quail, and the Prescribed Burn Association of Texas. Gary, Sue, and the 77 Ranch have been recognized for their conservation ethic and leadership through numerous state, regional and national awards.
Debbie Reed is the Executive Director of the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium (ESMC), and has been engaged in the development of the ESM program since its inception. Besides serving on the ESM Steering Committee, she has been the lead consultant in charge of developing the ESM protocols and pilot project development. She has decades of experience in carbon and ecosystem service markets for agriculture, including supporting the development of cost-effective tools, protocols, programs and policies that benefit farmers and ranchers. As the Executive Director of the Coalition on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (C-AGG) since 2009, Reed has worked to innovate carbon and ecosystem service markets opportunities that work for farmers and ranchers. C-AGG is the leading US multi-stakeholder organization focused on creating voluntary, sustainable incentive-based climate change mitigation and ecosystem service market opportunities for the agricultural sector. C-AGG catalyzes change by convening stakeholders to forge successful programs, tools and methods to mitigate climate change and deliver ecosystem services to society. These programs enable farmers and ranchers to become more efficient, productive, profitable, and sustainable. Reed serves as the Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture; and is an Agriculture Technical Working Group expert for the Climate Bond Initiative.