Former Iowa Ag Secretary Northey Dies

Former Iowa Secretary of Ag Bill Northey Dies at 64, Lauded for Work as Farmer Advocate

Todd Neeley
By  Todd Neeley , DTN Staff Reporter
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Former Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey died on Monday. Funeral services are pending. (DTN file photo by Chris Clayton)

LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- Bill Northey, the former Iowa secretary of agriculture and longtime farm advocate from Spirit Lake, Iowa has died at age 64.

The 1981 graduate of Iowa State University most recently served as the CEO of the Agribusiness Association of Iowa (AAI), a position he held since March 2022.

The AAI announced his passing in a statement Monday. The cause of death has not been released. Northey is survived by his wife Cindy and three daughters.

"It is with great sadness that the Agribusiness Association of Iowa shares the news of the passing of CEO Bill Northey," the group said on its website.

"The state of Iowa, and all of agriculture, has lost a great leader who has left his mark on future generations and will be greatly missed. 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."

Funeral arrangements were pending as of Monday afternoon.

Northey served as the USDA undersecretary for farm production and conservation from 2018-21. Northey was confirmed to the position by the Senate in February 2018.

He served as Iowa's ag secretary from 2007-17 before he was nominated to the USDA post by President Donald Trump.

Northey has also served on the Iowa USDA Farm Service Agency state committee, was a Dickinson County soil and water conservation district commissioner and a board member of Ag Ventures Alliance.

Northey was co-founder and president of Innovative Growers, LLC, a farmer-owned and farmer-managed company designed to capitalize on demand for the production of specialty grain products. On his own farm at Spirit Lake, Northey produced corn and soybeans.

TRIBUTES TO NORTHEY

The news of his passing spread quickly Monday. Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds announced flags to be flown at half-staff through the end of Northey's funeral and interment.

"Bill was a great leader whose work ethic and passion for Iowa agriculture was unmatched," she said in a statement.

"Iowans and farmers around the country were fortunate to have such a rock-solid advocate and friend. 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."

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement that the Iowa farm community "lost a giant."

"Bill Northey was a dear friend and fierce advocate for the family farmer," he said.

"As Iowa's secretary of agriculture and undersecretary for farm production and conservation at the United States Department of Agriculture under President Trump, Bill's commitment to agriculture, biofuels and conservation was unmatched. The Northey family have been friends of the Grassleys since 1980, for over two generations. Our prayers are with them during this difficult time," said Grassley.

Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst said Northey "dedicated his life" to Iowa agriculture.

"He helped establish Iowa as a national leader on key initiatives, including ethanol and the nutrient reduction strategy, while always remaining grounded and connected to his family farm in Dickinson County," Ernst said in a statement.

"I was thankful to work with him closely during my time in the Iowa Senate and the U.S. Senate on the issues that matter most to our farmers. Bill will be greatly missed and leaves behind a legacy of unparalleled passion for Iowa agriculture."

Current Iowa Secretary of Ag Mike Naig said he was "in shock" at the news of Northey's "unexpected passing."

"Jaime and I send our deepest and sincerest condolences to Cindy and the entire Northey family," Naig said in a statement.

"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. 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."

POSITIVE IMPACT ON IOWA AND BEYOND

As Iowa's ag secretary, Naig said Northey had a "tremendously positive impact" on the state of Iowa and its department of agriculture and land stewardship.

"But his influence went well beyond our borders," he said.

"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."

Elizabeth Burns-Thompson, vice president of external affairs at Landus Cooperative in Iowa, said she worked with Northey on farm policy issues during her time at the Iowa Farm Bureau and Iowa Corn Growers.

"Bill was the definition of a public servant with roots starting in the Corn Growers Association, which is also where I began my professional career," Burns-Thompson told DTN.

"Even on the toughest of political issues, he could find unity, make everyone feel welcome and ensure there was still room for laughter amongst the intricacies of policy debates. As a young person, he always inspired me that you can make a big difference regardless where you start."

Monte Shaw, executive director of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, said in a statement that Northey has "always been a thoughtful but forceful" leader for farmers and rural America.

"My favorite meetings with Bill and Cindy weren't at his official office but rather at church," Shaw said.

"Bill was just a great human being. The few times I met his kids, you just knew instantly that they had great parents. My heart goes out to Cindy and the entire family. I hope they can take some small measure of solace from knowing that Bill left an impact, not just on farm policy and practices, but on the hearts of all who were lucky enough to know him."

The Iowa Farm Bureau released a statement on Monday.

"The Iowa Farm Bureau is saddened to learn of the passing of Bill Northey -- a tireless champion, defender and promoter of farmers and agriculture at both the state and federal levels," IFB said.

"His steadfast dedication and life's work to ensuring agriculture thrives will continue to impact farm families here in Iowa and across the nation for years to come."

Those who knew Northey both personally and professionally took to social media expressing sadness and shock.

The House Agriculture Committee released the following statement on X, formerly known as Twitter:

"Bill Northey leaves behind a remarkable legacy in the agricultural community. As a fourth-generation farmer, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, Under Secretary of Farm Production and Conservation at USDA, and through other ventures, Bill left a lasting mark on all those lucky enough to know him."

Retired agriculture broadcaster Mike Adams stated: "So sad to hear of the passing of Bill Northey, a great leader and spokesperson for agriculture. Took on challenges with a smile and determination. A huge loss. No matter how high his position he was always down to earth. Prayers for his family."

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

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Todd Neeley

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