Bob Whitney, De Leon, Texas, has spent a lifetime teaching others about agriculture in the U.S. and in 26 countries. But he'll humbly tell you all he does is bridge a gap.
"You've been in situations where somebody needed to know what to do, and you provided that for them? Well, I've always looked at it like I'm standing between technology and the need, and my job is to make sure I know the technology, so that whenever the need arises, I can meet it," Whitney says.
And meet it, he has.
Whether working with producers as a Texas A&M Extension agent, in Amman, Jordan, training Iraqi soldiers to become Extension agents, in South Africa providing field level support for ag research, or consulting with U.S. ag companies, Whitney's connecting people with the information and technology they need to succeed.
Whitney's dedication, knowledge, and hands-on approach to agriculture earned him the Texas Plant Protection Association (TPPA) 2020 Norman Borlaug Lifetime Achievement Award.
"This award is the highest honor for TPPA members. Individuals who make a special contribution to the association and Texas agriculture receive this award," says TPPA Board Chairman Ray Smith. "I have known and worked with Bob Whitney for many years, specifically when he was a Texas county agent for 28 years and most recently as a crop specialist with Farley Farm Supply in De Leon.
"Bob's planning and coordination of agriculture education programs for major commodities in Texas have been beneficial to farmers and communities. He's also been involved in several international projects, including as farm manager for the Ukulima Farm Research Center in South Africa, a joint project of the Norman Borlaug Institute at Texas A &M University.
"Bob's a hard worker with goals and an uncanny ability to work with all types of people to accomplish those goals."
The Norman Borlaug Lifetime Achievement Award is named for Norman Borlaug, the agronomist, humanitarian, and Nobel laureate. Borlaug was called the "Father of the Green Revolution," "Agriculture's Greatest Spokesperson," and "The Man Who Saved a Billion Lives." He completed his career as a member of the Texas A&M University staff, serving as a distinguished international agriculture professor.
What's in a name
Whitney has received numerous awards throughout his career but says an award associated with Norman Borlaug puts you in a different class.
"It elevates you where you don't deserve to be," Whitney says. "I was pleased when I found out I was receiving it because it's got his name on it. I don't even have to say who's giving it to me. When I say, 'I'm getting the Norman Borlaug Award,' it's like, 'Wow!' He was a neat guy."
When Smith contacted Whitney this fall, he had just completed a farm planning and management video series for small and medium enterprises in Nigeria. "I kick off the video series because I'm the generalist. I talk about everything from getting started to planning a budget to how to find buyers to new innovative technologies available for small holders. So, I'm finishing that up, and Ray tells me about this award, and I'm thinking, 'I need to go back and redo these videos. I want them to be better.'"
From reading Borlaug's books or walking the fields of India where Borlaug labored or his friendship with Norman's granddaughter Julie Borlaug, Whitney reveres Norman Borlaug and his legacy.
"This award is special, but when I got it, I thought, 'I wish I had done more. There's so much more to do."
Whitney began his career as an Extension agent in 1982, serving producers in Parker, Tarrant, and Comanche counties. In 2007, he moved to Aman, where he helped plan and implement a $5.7 million USDA-funded Extension training program in agriculture, family, consumer sciences, community development and youth for more than 500 Iraqi Extension professionals from the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture. He returned to Williamson County in 2008, where he served as the Extension county coordinator until he retired in 2010.
That same year, he created Whitney Consulting Group, where he's an agricultural consultant and researcher for clients such as BASF Crop Protection, Bayer CropScience, Texas pecan and peanut boards and the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture.
From 2011 until June 2020, he worked as the peanut research and education specialist for Texas Peanut Producers Board. Whitney manages farming and livestock plans for Farley Farm Supply and serves the Texas Pecan Board as executive director.
When he's not consulting, he can be found playing soccer with students at De Leon Elementary School where he's a substitute teacher or serving his church or hosting guests in his home with his wife Laurie. The couple will celebrate their 40th anniversary in June.
Laurie and Bob Whitney at work in their home-greenhouse in De Leon. (Photo courtesy of the Whitneys)
While Whitney has planned, coordinated and implemented numerous programs throughout the world, his life's mission is motivated by his faith in Jesus Christ and people.
"We're there for the people, not the programs. What you want is to make an impact on people. You never care if the agriculture systems really change, but you want the people to be different when you get through with whatever you're doing."
Since the 1990s, Whitney has either attended or presented at the TPPA conference, "unless I was out of the country.
"The conference is where I go to get inspiration, to figure out some of the newest stuff going on and how I might use it," Whitney says. "They always give me something that is a little different. Too, it brings together enough diverse people that you get to see how somebody else is doing something."
TPPA also presented awards to the following individuals:
- TPPA Graduate Student Award (MS)- John Grunseich, Department of Entomology, Texas A&M University, College Station
- TPPA Graduate Student Award (PhD)- Blake Elkins, Department of Entomology, Texas A&M University, College Station
- TPPA Academic/Agency Award – Scott Nolte, assistant professor and state Extension weed specialist with Texas A & M AgriLife Extension Service. He is a member of the TPPA Board and chairman of the TPPA Awards Committee. Nolte was instrumental in converting the TPPA conference to a virtual format.
- TPPA Industry Award— Greg Mock, unit supervisor for the Texas Brazos Bottom & Hempstead, Simplot Grower Solutions. Mock is a TPPA board member and is section chair for the Fertility Management Section of the conference. He has supported the conference as a sponsor and by assisting in conference registrations.
- TPPA Consultant Award- Trevor Jones, contract consultant with AgGro Innovations, LLC, a contract research company dedicated to providing the agricultural industry with quality research. Jones has participated in the conference since he was a graduate student at Texas A & M. In 2013, he received the TPPA Graduate Student Award. He and his team are supportive of the TPPA Conference.
- TPPA Ag Communications Award- Shelley Huguley, editor of Southwest Farm Press, Olton, and TPPA board member.
- TPPA Ray Smith Leadership Award- Bob Sasser has served as TPPA executive director for 18 years. He has seen the conference grow over the years despite all the consolidations in the Crop Protection industry. Before he became executive director, he served many years as part of the management team for a crop protection firm.
Click here, to view the photo gallery of winners.