Dale Fjell, former Crop Production Specialist, retires
Dale Fjell, former State Extension Crop Production Specialist at K-State, retired on Sept. 1, 2016. At the time of his retirement, Fjell was the Northeast Area Extension Director.
Fjell, a native of Nebraska, first came to K-State in the fall of 1974 to go to graduate school in Biochemistry. He eventually decided to change directions a bit. Fjell accepted an offer from Gary Paulsen, professor of crop physiology, for a full-time research assistant position.
“The research grant we were working on was from NASA. They wanted to use satellite data to try to predict wheat yields in Russia. Our job was to take similar satellite data from the U.S. and certain countries we could work with and correlate it with actual wheat yields and weather records. In other words, we worked on ground-truthing the satellite data against what actually happened in several locations and over several years,” Fjell recalled.
Fjell then went on to get his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees under Paulsen, earning his Ph.D. in 1982. During his time in graduate school, he also worked with Ted Walter, Crop Performance Testing Coordinator. This gave him lots of practical experience that proved important in his future Extension work.
“We put out plot after plot after plot, all over the state, year after year. I’d give talks about the performance tests at field days, which was good training for Extension work,” Fjell said.
“I’ll always be grateful to Dr. Paulsen for taking a chance on me, since I did not have any agronomy degrees at the time he hired me. And to Ted Walter for allowing me to get so much practical experience in putting out plots and giving field tours and talks,” he added.
After receiving his Ph.D., Fjell became K-State’s South Central Area Extension Agronomist, based in Hutchinson. He served in this role from 1982 until 1990. During this time, Fjell greatly increased the number of late-summer preplant wheat schools and the number of wheat tours in late spring.
At the time he started as South Central Area Agronomist, there was only one preplant wheat school in his Extension area. By the time he left, there were 17-18 preplant wheat schools and about 40 spring wheat tours.
“There were some other wheat production meetings being held in the area, but it seemed to me the most useful time to have in-depth wheat schools would be before planting, in August. So I made a big push to increase the number of wheat schools we did in that timeframe,” Fjell said.
In 1990, Fjell became one of two state Extension crop production specialists at K-State, based in Manhattan. There, he worked primarily with row crops such as corn, soybeans, and grain sorghum. He continued to put out hundreds of on-farm research plots all over the state. He also worked with other K-State Extension agronomists in transitioning producers in Kansas to different cropping systems, such as wheat-corn-fallow and wheat-sorghum-fallow. The concept of early-corn-early was also introduced in Kansas during his tenure.
In 2005, Fjell left the Department of Agronomy to become the Northeast Area Extension Director, where he remained until his retirement.
Throughout his career, Fjell has been known for his ready smile, good humor, and friendly attitude toward all he met – in addition to his practical knowledge of crops and agriculture.
During his time at K-State, Fjell said his favorite memories are of giving talks at meetings and field days, and interacting with farmers all over this state. But he won’t be giving this up.
Starting in September 2016, Fjell will become director of research and stewardship for the Kansas Corn Growers Association. He’s excited about this new role, since in many ways it will be going back to his roots.
“I will be finishing up my career back in agronomy, interacting with farmers directly again instead of indirectly as an administrator. I’m really looking forward to working again with farmers, evaluating research, and giving talks. There’s nothing I like better,” Fjell concluded.
Fjell and his wife Sheryl will continue to live in Manhattan. Anyone who would like to reach him can still send an email to his K-State email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve Watson, Agronomy eUpdate Editor