OSU names Jay Noller new head of crop and soil science

October 2, 2014
Jay Noller
Jay Noller incorporates his research and soils from around the world into his celebrated artwork. (photo by Daniel Robison.)

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has selected Jay Noller the new department head of crop and soil science in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Noller, a longtime landscape soils professor in the department, started his new position on October 1. He succeeds Russ Karow who served as department head since 2001.

“Our research into soil and crops will continue to have a common theme: food. Improving food, creating sustainable conditions to produce food and supporting stakeholders in agriculture and natural resources,” said Noller, who previously served as associate department head under Karow.

“We’re also all about terroir—how food carries its place of origin with it, through taste, nutrition and other qualities. We want people to say, ‘This came from Oregon,’” he added.

Noller studies the very foundations of agriculture: how soil forms and how humans interact with it through farming.

He also studies the co-evolution of landscapes and culture, such as soil erosion in relationship with ancient land use in Cyprus and Greece. Digging deep into the soils under Rome recently, Noller concluded the ancient city began as a grain terminal for exporting food around the Mediterranean, Middle East and beyond.

“Jay truly thinks across the broad spectrum in academia. From the liberal arts to the depths of science,” said Karow.

“He uses new technologies and knowledge of the environment and plant communities to predict what soil will be—and see what could have been. It opens up many fascinating possibilities,” added Karow.

Noller is also an accomplished artist, painting the often hidden beauty of underground landscapes. His work is well known for incorporating soils from around the world into paints to add texture and unique colors. To see his artwork, visit http://soilscapestudio.com.

“Both research and art help tell the story of a place and how it came to be,” Noller said. “For me, art provides time for introspection while touching on our department’s range of research, from wheat and potatoes, to soil and its creative powers.”

As department head, Noller has set his sights on increasing the number of undergraduate students, noting the department could double its current enrollment. Students with crop and soil expertise are enjoying increased employment opportunities in farming, conservation, forestry, and agricultural support, he said.

“There are jobs in these areas. We can prepare students to immediately launch into these positions and be effective.” Noller said. “There is a crying need for the knowledge and training we provide, especially in agronomic circles.”

Noller will also continue an effort to combine the department’s faculty and labs into a single cohesive unit under the same roof—an ongoing effort since the separate departments of crop and soil science merged in 1990. 

“During Russ’s tenure, he melded the department into a body of scientists who continue to earn a great deal of respect around the world for their work,” Noller said. “Russ gave us the tools—and hope—to conduct our research and advance the field of crop and soil science.” 

Karow’s retirement, effective at the end of the year, will allow him to begin a new career with his wife, volunteering locally and overseas in agriculture and social work. He will also remain active in the College of Agricultural Sciences, speaking to groups and helping connect the state’s urban and rural agricultural stakeholders. Karow came to OSU as a professor and OSU Extension specialist in 1983.

Author: Daniel Robison
Source: Jay Noller; Russ Karow