After nearly four decades in soybean research, Greg Luce takes off his Missouri Soybeans hat to spend more time with friends and family.
It’s not often that you see someone’s eyes light up or a smile spread across their face when talking about dirt, or in the agricultural industry – soil. However, Missouri Soybeans’ director of research, Greg Luce, is overjoyed to discuss soil health and best agronomic practices with anyone who asks.
With nearly 40 years under his belt in agronomy, Greg has decided to retire and pass along his expertise to a new staffer.
“I’m excited for Greg and his wife to enjoy retirement and their time together. He has most certainly earned it,” said Gary Wheeler, Missouri Soybeans CEO and executive director. “I am truly going to miss Greg. I’ll miss his brain, ideas and network, but mostly his kindness and uplifting attitude.”
Greg joined the Missouri Soybeans team in 2015. He immediately began developing a new program at the organization’s Bay Farm Research Facility and expanding the research portfolio. Greg was tasked with rolling up his sleeves and getting boots on the ground, literally, to help the organization create a true research department that would show a return on investment for farmer checkoff dollars.
Gary courted Greg for eight months, trying to get him to take this new position with Missouri Soybeans to help the organization move the needle.
The Path to Plants
Greg didn’t grow up on the farm but was never too far from the family’s operation. Growing up in Raytown, Missouri, Greg was not directly exposed to production agriculture. However, he spent time on his Uncle Herb’s row crop and cattle farm near Montgomery City. Gaining an appreciation for the farm had a lot to do with his passion for land stewardship.
Greg attended Missouri State University – Southwest Missouri State at the time – where he originally wanted to be a veterinarian. After taking some classes in soils taught by professors Vernon Renner and Ben Fuqua, he knew he needed to make the switch and change his major to plant and soil science.
“Everything seemed to go back to the soil and soil being the ‘root’ of all agricultural practices,” said Greg. “All through history, people have prospered because of good agricultural systems and ultimately the soil. If you can keep the soil productive and improve upon it, it’s going to continue tube a significant contribution to society.”
From his time spent on the farm, Greg knew farmers were some of the best conservationists and felt compelled to learn more and share insights with them to help them be more productive.
“All the farmers I know are good at conservation – probably more than they are ever given credit for,” said Greg. “I was taught that soil is actually more than just a ‘thing;’ it is a living organism. It sounds cliché, but as a living organism, soil is a way for farmers to leave a living legacy on their operations.”
Under the guidance of his two favorite professors, Renner and Fuqua, Greg decided to continue his education as a graduate student at the University of Missouri in Columbia (MU). While at MU, Greg studied with another outstanding soils professor, Jim Brown, and conducted research in soil fertility.
Greg received his master’s degree in agronomy in 1983 and was eager to keep investing in his education as a doctoral student, but a full-time job opportunity came open that he couldn’t pass up.
A ‘Pioneer’ in Agronomy
In 1983, Greg began working for Pioneer. It was actually when he went in for an interview with Pioneer that he first met farmer-leader and Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council (MSMC) board member, Robert Alpers.
“As Greg moved up the corporate ladder with Pioneer, we didn’t see each other as frequently. So, when I saw he would be joining Missouri Soybeans, I was very happy to say the least,” said Robert. “Having Greg as the research director took such a load off the farmer directors. Greg brought smouch knowledge, respect and leadership to the program, and through Greg, we became confident we were making good research investments.”
Greg worked for Pioneer for 32 years in a variety of roles, each working to serve the farmer. Greg started his career working as a field agronomist and covered half of Missouri. He and his wife, Gail, eventually moved to Iowa and then back to Missouri while working with Pioneer. Over time, Greg got promoted to agronomy research manager, technical product manager and area manager.
In these roles, Greg did a variety of agronomic testing and hybrid plots, helped with research awards, funded projects valuable for the farmer and aided breeders in developing products that were the best choice for growers. During Greg’s years with Pioneer, he was a member of the Agriculture Leaders of Tomorrow (ALOT) Class III and became very involved the Missouri Certified Crop Adviser (CCA) Program. He enjoyed years of conducting training sessions for sales representatives and managers, and later students at MU.
For his leadership and diligence to the farmer, Greg also received several awards for being a “pioneer” in agronomy. Greg was presented with the North American Pioneer Agronomists of the Year award in 2000 and received the Pioneer Leaders of Distinction Awards twice in his career. After his service to the Missouri CCA Program, he also presented the Missouri CCA of the Year Award.
The Checkoff That Pays Off
Greg enjoyed what he did with Pioneer, but he did have a desire to work closer with research and testing. That is when Gary Wheeler started “courting” Greg to join the team.
“I was always interested in agronomic research and serving the farmer,” said Greg. “As an agronomist with Pioneer throughout most of my career, I wasn’t directly involved in sales but was more of a support person to provide information to farmers. And that’s what I think Missouri Soybeans is all about – providing support to the farmer.”
Greg further explained that his hankering for working closely with research again is what really interested him in joining the Missouri Soybeans staff. When Greg first started with Missouri Soybeans, it actually began as a dual role as a grain crop specialist with MU Extension. Greg worked in this capacity until 2020.
The biggest aspect of Greg’s role was to work directly with the soybean checkoff to help the MSMC board select various research projects to fund. Greg shared that over the years, he’s had the opportunity to help with the funding of a variety of projects from new uses that can create demand to biodiesel to long-term agronomic research such as overcoming soybean cyst nematode (SCN),drought- and flood-tolerant beans, high-oleic oil and much more.
Greg explained he enjoyed working on all the projects, but several stuck out. One was the SOYLEIC soybean research conducted in conjunction with MU, MSMC and the Unites Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA), with funding by the United Soybean Board (USB). In particular, he liked watching the evolution of the program. What started as a product planted only in research trials is now graining traction throughout most of the country and internationally.
Another passion project has been the MU strip trial program led by John Lory. This program is an integrated research, education and demonstration project helping producers validate management decisions and document environmental stewardships. Practices compared during the program include nitrogen timing, phosphorus application comparisons and cover crop impacts on corn and soybean yields. Greg shared he enjoyed seeing how a practice performed over a larger landscape would or would not work on a farmer’s field.
Lastly, Greg found it rewarding to help oversee the long-term research being conducted in soybean breeding by researchers, Andrew Scaboo and Pengyin Chen. Greg appreciates the dedication put in by these researchers to improve soybean composition, traits and yield for the benefit of Missouri producers.
Greg pointed out that MU, with support from MSMC, has been a hub for research focused on controlling SCN and root knot nematode (RKN). Going back to Sam Anand and the development of the SCN-resistant soybean variety, Hartwig,, to the RKN-resistant varieties that researchers Grover Shannon and Chen, released, to the breakthroughs made by Melissa Mitchum, the checkoff has continuously discovered ways to enhance tools for the farmer.
“Greg is one of the best soybean agronomists I have ever had the pleasure to work with. Greg always has Missouri soybean farmer’s profitability and productivity in mind when making tough research funding decisions,” said Scaboo. “I’ll miss leaning on Greg for his honest opinion on our research, as well as his vast knowledge of soybean agronomy and the entire soybean value chain.”
Greg will retire from Missouri Soybeans at the end of spring and assist with the onboarding of the new director of research and agronomy, Eric Oseland.
“Working with our Missouri farmers to improve their operations gave me a real sense of purpose,” said Greg. “I knew I was doing something for a good reason. It was more than a job; it was more than a paycheck. Working for Missouri Soybeans has been very rewarding, really trying to improve something worthwhile and to just get back to my roots.”
After years in this industry, Greg looks forward to starting this new chapter. Greg and Gail plan to spend more time doing the things they love. For the Luces that includes spending time with their sons, Ethan and Matt, camping, fishing and hunting. Greg hopes to stay close to Missouri Soybeans and agriculture. He looks forward to seeing the progress being made – watching from afar in his camper.