Richard Fitzgerald honored with lifetime conservation award
Agronomist and nutrient management expert Richard Fitzgerald has received the Carl G. Luebben lifetime achievement award for his contributions to soil health and water quality in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.
Luebben was a pioneer in sustainable agriculture and known for his passion for agronomy, soil health research and mentorship of Valley conservation professionals. Fitzgerald has certainly followed in Luebben’s footsteps, working one-on-one with producers to engage them in environmental stewardship and adoption of best management practices.
Fitzgerald helped run the family farm and fertilizer business in Stuarts Draft, Va., while studying agronomy at Virginia Tech. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1979, he worked in fertilizer/pesticide sales and service before joining the Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR) as a nutrient management planner.
During his 20 years with DCR, Fitzgerald focused on helping Valley farmers maximize profitability and minimize water quality impacts by making optimum use of manure and fertilizer nutrients. He also helped develop many aspects of Virginia’s nutrient management planning system as well as specifications for numerous nutrient management and agronomic best management practices (BMPs).
Fitzgerald moved to USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in 2010 to provide agronomic services to field staff and clients across northwest Virginia. This work focused on promoting enhanced nutrient management practices and incentive programs, including no-till injection of manure to maximize efficiency of nutrient recovery while minimizing soil disturbance. His efforts helped NRCS double the number of nutrient management practices installed in the Valley between 2010 and 2013.
During those years, he became a true expert in manure injection and continues to help Virginia move towards widespread implementation of that practice. He also coached many area Soil & Water Conservation District personnel and farmers in the use of the Pre-Sidedress Nitrate Test (PSNT) to make more informed decisions about fertilizer applications.
In 2014, Richard began a contractor position with the Headwaters Soil & Water Conservation District in Augusta County to help increase livestock stream exclusion on three targeted sub-watersheds of the Upper Middle River. Fitzgerald’s approach focused not just on fencing cows out of waterways, but on helping landowners understand how those fences and intensive grazing management could lead to a more efficient and profitable production system. His outreach efforts and relationship-building over a four-year period prompted a dozen clients to install 5.5 miles of stream exclusion across 15 farms.
Today, the highly-respected agronomy consultant works part time in the NRCS Verona office where he is again putting his exceptional knowledge to work helping USDA promote more efficient and sustainable agriculture. Always advocating for producer success, he steadfastly promotes science-based nutrient management, good record-keeping of crop yields, managed grazing and balancing maximum crop yields while minimizing nutrient losses.