Leading with Science™ - Bill Northcott

It's hard to imagine what farming was like back in the early 1800's. Bill Northcott's family were some of the original farm settlers in Onarga, Illinois after making their way west from their original settlement in Connecticut in the 1630's. A historical "fun fact" is that Onarga has been referred to as little Connecticut. 

Bill Northcott is cofounder of Agrible and an internationally renowned expert in agricultural hydrology and crop water use. His expertise lies in soil hydrology, chemistry and fertility, agricultural meteorology, and the impact of climate change on agricultural production systems, data science, and software development. Yes, that's enough to make your head spin - but Northcott loves the challenge of helping growers manage their land resources, and it was his interest in providing useful tools for growers that led him to his current position as Chief Innovation Officer at Agrible, Inc. 

Sustainability Focus

Northcott thought about going into farming when he was in high school, but because the financial climate in farming was difficult at the time, he chose Ag Engineering with a focus on soil and water conservation engineering. He followed that with a Masters in Agronomy with an emphasis on soil physics and soil chemistry. 

Northcott's interest in conservation and sustainability continued during his PhD thesis, where Northcott was honored as a USDA National Needs Fellow focusing on national research for agricultural water quality, along with a focus on GIS (geographic information systems) and computer modeling. 

Eventually, Northcott ended up at Michigan State as a Professor of Biological Systems Engineering, where he continued his work with computer modeling and design of conservation practices to improve water quality. His instruction at MSU landed him the distinguished honor of the Withrow Award for teaching excellence, mentoring, and supervision. This award was especially noteworthy because it is based primarily on nominations from students. 

Along the way, Northcott's research focused on helping farmers. He found that the Michigan Dairy Industry had many water quality regulations, but not many solutions. He served on the NRCS (National Resource Conservation Service) state board for conservation nutrient management, where experiences eventually led to some of the predictive analytic tools like Morning Farm Report's Yield Engine product included in the Grower AgriBundle™

He also created the original web-based software for Spatial Rainfall Consulting, geared to growers in the state of Michigan, and what would later become Agrible's free app, Pocket Rain Gauge™

With his eye always on the future, Northcott continues to develop products for Agrible while always remembering how far things have advanced in technology from when his family farmed in the 1800's. When asked if farmers are adapting to all of the new technologies available today, Northcott says, "Intuition is still common, but precision ag will begin to pay off for growers."

His tenant who farms his land in Onarga has a long standing (steak dinner) bet on their yield outcome. Will the tenant beat Agrible's computer model or vice versa? According to Northcott, "I won the bet and he owes me dinner again this year."