Joe Caroline Honored With NSA Gold Award
Monday, August 28, 2017
filed under: Marketing/Risk Management
Longtime sunflower agronomist/breeder Joe Caroline is the newest recipient of the National Sunflower Association Gold Award, presented to “individuals who have contributed extraordinarily to the overall sunflower industry, either through their occupation or through the association.” Caroline was honored during a luncheon at the 2017 NSA Summer Seminar in Rapid City, S.D., on June 28.
Caroline served on the NSA Research Committee for several years, including six years as chair. He was a sunflower industry representative on the federally funded Sclerotinia Initiative during the early years of the multi-crop research effort. Additionally, he chaired a USDA-ARS focus group whose purpose was to maintain an interactive dialogue between public scientists and the general sunflower industry.
The Kenmare, N.D., native’s sunflower roots trace back to the mid-1970s. Having earned bachelor’s (agricultural education) and master’s (agronomy) degrees from North Dakota State University, he worked as an agronomist at NDSU’s Carrington Research Extension Center from 1975 to 1979. Sunflower acreage was increasing dramatically during that period, and central North Dakota was a hotbed of growth.
Caroline’s Carrington duties included, among others, the coordination of yield trials for cereal grains and row crops adapted to the area. “The first [sunflower] yield trial I conducted was put together by Gary Fick,” he recounts. Fick was, at that time, the USDA sunflower breeder at Fargo. He would later go on to a highly successful commercial career with SIGCO Research, Seed America and Seeds 2000 (now Nuseed), and was the 2014 NSA Gold Award recipient. The trial consisted of about a dozen entries (oil and confection). “Plus, we included open-pollinated Russian varieties like Peredovik and Sputnik as checks,” Caroline says.
Caroline also conducted sunflower population trials, planting date studies, herbicide evaluations and other ’flower research at Carrington. “It was new for everybody, including me,” he recalls. “I was a ‘freshman agronomist,’ and we had this new crop about which hardly anyone knew much.” Growers flocked to field days and winter meetings, hungry for information on the very promising cash crop addition for their rotations.
In 1979 Caroline left his NDSU post to join SIGCO Research as a sales agronomist based at Carrington. He developed a sales network across the northern half of North Dakota to support the company’s sunflower operations, while also providing agronomic support to SIGCO farmer-dealers and coordinating strip trials across the region. “I did that for about a year and a half, but sales just weren’t my ‘cup of tea.’ I missed the research part of it,” he recalls.
It was a timely sentiment, as SIGCO decided to establish a research station at Carrington to better serve the westward movement of the sunflower crop by diversifying its testing locations. In 1981 Caroline established a “satellite” sunflower breeding station there, reporting to SIGCO research director Gary Fick, who was based at the company’s headquarters in Breckenridge, Minn. Caroline’s work focused on development of hybrids for the Northern Great Plains, and he managed the Carrington research staff in all aspects of field breeding and testing.
Being located further west and north also meant Caroline played an extension role, speaking at numerous grower meetings around the northern half of North Dakota. (While those meetings typically were well attended, he recalls an evening meeting near Bottineau on an extremely cold winter night. Only two farmers — brothers — showed up. They received the free supper and listened to the program. A breakfast meeting also had been scheduled in a nearby community for the next morning. Still brutally cold, the session again drew just two farmers: the same two brothers. “We fed them and let them go,” Caroline chuckles.)
SIGCO was sold to Lubrizol Corporation in 1982. When Lubrizol purchased Agrigenetics (now Mycogen) a few years later, SIGCO merged into the company. The Carrington research station was closed in 1987, and Caroline moved to Breckenridge. He continued working on sunflower, serving as global sunflower R&D leader from 1989 to 2000. In that position, he led sunflower breeding programs in the United States, Argentina and France, including the coordination of winter breeding nurseries in Chile and Argentina. He supported international sales with testing efforts in a host of countries, including Argentina, South Africa, Australia, France, Spain, Hungary, Germany and the former Yugoslavia. He also developed some of the first NuSun (mid-oleic) hybrids marketed in the United States.
Dow Chemical bought Mycogen in 1998. Two years later, Caroline’s role as a hands-on sunflower breeder ended when he became part of Dow’s Six Sigma quality management program that utilizes a comprehensive set of tools, methods and techniques to improve processes and to develop new products and technologies. There he led teams of subject matter experts to improve processes in sunflower hybrid seed production and planting seed conditioning. Among them was development of a process to manage sunflower parent seed and hybrid seed purity.
Though his sunflower breeding days ceased in 2000, Caroline continued to work closely with the crop. Mycogen/Dow created an “oilseed product development agronomist”?position in 2004 that he filled until retiring in 2015. In it, he conducted the final stage of hybrid evaluations for sunflower and canola; designed and coordinated multiple sunflower strip trials from North Dakota to Texas (as well as canola trials in North Dakota and Minnesota); assisted oilseed crop product managers for the company’s sunflower and canola lines; and, among other duties, also conducted multi-year, multi-location sunflower seed treatment trials with Syngenta to evaluate efficacy of new fungicide combinations for downy mildew control.
Though he retired from Dow two years ago, Caroline remains busy. He works part-time for Critereon, a firm that assists seed companies developing new GMO traits by auditing their USDA compliance records and field plantings. He also works for the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association as a field inspector of seed fields of small grains and soybeans. And finally, for good measure, he wraps up the growing season by doing fall tillage for a farmer near Breckenridge.
Sunflower is a crop and an industry that obviously remains very important to Joe Caroline. “It’s filled with good people in the public setting, at the NSA and at the various companies throughout the industry,” he affirms. And perhaps most satisfying, he relates, is the knowledge that he played a role in improving the economic life of numerous farmers — not only through his work in hybrid seed breeding and development, but also as an agronomist and educator.
“Many times, I think I had more of an impact on a grower by helping him out with a production limitation — maybe he wasn’t applying enough fertilizer or using a chemical properly; or the population wasn’t right. I found that interaction rewarding — and rewarding not only in the sense of sharing my ideas, but also observing growers and learning from them as well.” — Don Lilleboe
Also recognized during this year’s NSA Summer Seminar were two retiring members of the NSA?Board of Directors: Arnold Woodbury and Leon Zimbelman.
Woodbury grows sunflower on his farm and ranch near Wyndmere, N.D. He joined the board in 2009 as a representative of the North Dakota Oilseeds Council, serving eight years. Zimbelman farms near Keenesburg, Colo. He joined the NSA?board in 2005 as a representative of the Colorado Sunflower Administrative Committee and served for 12 years.
“The NSA thanks Arnold and Leon for their service and contribution to the association and the industry as a whole. They are great leaders and advocates for the sunflower industry and will be missed,” states John Sandbakken, NSA executive director.