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Former Iowa secretary, ag champion Bill Northey passes

Agriculture industry remembers Northey as a tireless advocate for farmers.

Krissa Welshans

February 6, 2024

3 Min Read
USDA

Bill Northey, who served as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture from 2007 to 2018 and as undersecretary for farm production and conservation at U.S. Department of Agriculture from 2018 to 2021, has passed away unexpectedly at the age of 64.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has ordered all flags in Iowa to be lowered to half-staff immediately and remain at half-staff until sunset on the day of Northey’s funeral and internment.  

“Bill was a great leader whose work ethic and passion for Iowa agriculture was unmatched. Iowans and farmers around the country were fortunate to have such a rock-solid advocate and friend,” said Gov. Reynolds. “Bill understood well our responsibility to be good stewards of the land and exemplified that calling throughout his career. But his life’s greatest role was as a loving husband, father, and grandfather. Bill will be missed. Kevin and I offer our deepest condolences and prayers to Cindy and their family.”

Current Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig expressed shock at the news of Northey’s death, acknowledging his many years of service to the state’s agriculture industry.  

“Bill was a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a farmer. He loved Iowa and he loved Iowa agriculture. His curiosity, care for others, and love of learning made him a leader that everyone could admire,” Naig said. “Bill brought a farmer’s work ethic to every aspect of his life, and he was tireless in promoting our state, its people and our agriculture.”

But his influence went well beyond Iowa’s borders, Naig added. “Whether it was on issues like soil conservation, water quality, renewable energy, foreign animal disease preparedness or trade, Bill was respected nationally and internationally. Bill was smart and people looked toward his leadership on every issue he focused on.”

House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member David Scott the passing of Northey is “a tremendous loss” for agriculture.  

“Bill's service as an advocate stemmed from his leadership in commodity circles to his time as Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and then at USDA as the person responsible for the commodity, farm lending, and conservation programs. He was a fourth-generation farmer trying to make sure USDA programs worked for farmers,” Scott stated. “Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers go to his wife Cindy and the whole Northey family as well as his friends and colleagues, past and present. Bill's loss is especially hard, given the passing late last year of his father Wayne, who instilled the passion to serve and help folks in Bill."

Northey was currently serving as chief executive officer of the Agribusiness Association of Iowa (AAI). Upon sharing the news of his passing, AAI said the state of Iowa, and all of agriculture, lost a great leader who left a mark on future generations.

“Bill was a tireless advocate for agriculture and a beloved leader for the entire AAI staff and organization. As we mourn the loss of our close colleague, we also extend our prayers for his family in this difficult time,” AAI stated.

Iowa Renewable Fuels Association Executive Director Monte Shaw called Northey “a thoughtful but forceful leader for farmers and rural America” and “an incredible friend to ethanol and biodiesel producers because he saw the big picture.”

He added, “This wasn’t just about turning a profit – this was about preserving a way of rural life.”

Northey, a fourth-generation farmer, held a bachelor's degree in agriculture business from Iowa State University and an MBA from Southwest Minnesota State University. He served on numerous boards and in a variety of different capacities during his lifetime.

About the Author(s)

Krissa Welshans

Livestock Editor

Krissa Welshans grew up on a crop farm and cow-calf operation in Marlette, Michigan. Welshans earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Michigan State University and master’s degree in public policy from New England College. She and her husband Brock run a show cattle operation in Henrietta, Texas, where they reside with their son, Wynn.

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