On Monday, the agricultural community began mourning the death of Iowa’s former agricultural secretary, Bill Northey, who died at age 64. He was remembered as an advocate for farmers across Iowa and rural America.
Northey was a fourth-generation farmer from Spirit Lake, Iowa. In 1981, he earned his degree in agricultural business from Iowa State University.
From there, he served as the National Corn Growers’ Association president from 1995 to 1996.
In 2006, he was elected as the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, serving two more terms in 2010 and 2014 before beginning a position with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2017.
“As Secretary, he had a tremendously positive impact on our state and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, but his influence went well beyond our borders. 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,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture and NASDA member Mike Naig.
Aside from his work as the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, Northey was the nation’s first undersecretary for farm production and conservation. He served under U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue until 2021.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack wrote, “Bill’s colleagues, the Iowa agriculture community, and so many who knew him will feel the absence of such a passionate, knowledgeable, and devoted leader for a long time to come.”
Most recently, Northey served as the CEO of the Agribusiness Association of Iowa until his death on Monday. Hired in 2022, Northey served members who supplied feed, seed, crop chemicals, grain, fertilizer, equipment, and other agricultural products and services.
“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,” wrote the association’s staff and board of directors.
Bill was also a NASDA member from 2007 to 2018 and served as NASDA President from 2011 to 2012.
“Bill Northey was my good friend as he was to so very many others. We have lost a titan in U.S. agriculture. All of NASDA expresses sorrow for his loss, and our love and support go out to his wife, Cindy, and his family. As a lifelong leader in the industry, Bill had an immense depth of knowledge and experience that he shared to benefit all of agriculture,” said NASDA CEO Ted McKinney and NASDA President, Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Blayne Arthur.
Northey served as a champion of renewable fuels and Iowa’s voluntary water-quality program. He served Iowa through disease outbreaks, including the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus and the highly pathogenic avian influenza.
Iowa’s Gov. Kim Reynolds also ordered flags across the state to be flown at half-staff until his burial.
“Bill was a great leader whose work ethic and passion for Iowa agriculture were unmatched. Iowans and farmers around the country were fortunate to have such a rock-solid advocate and friend,” Reynolds said in a statement.
Funeral arrangements are pending and a cause of death has not been released.