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NDSU Extension Agronomist Retires

North Dakota State University Extension agronomist Joel Ransom retired on February 1, 2021, after serving at NDSU for 18 years.

February 3, 2021

North Dakota State University Extension agronomist Joel Ransom retired on February 1, 2021, after serving at NDSU for 18 years. 

Ransom was born and raised in Idaho and earned his bachelor’s degree in agronomy from Brigham Young University. He earned his master’s and doctoral degrees, also in agronomy, from the University of Minnesota, along with a plant pathology minor on his Ph.D.

Prior to joining NDSU, Ransom worked for 20 years as a wheat and maize agronomist for the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). He started out stationed in Mexico, later worked in East Africa based in Nairobi, Kenya, and eventually was stationed in Nepal. 

Ransom was hired at NDSU in 2002 as an Extension agronomist in cereal crops housed in the Department of Plant Sciences. He started out at the rank of associate professor and achieved the rank of professor in 2009. His work included developing educational programs and giving presentations in the winter months, conducting research and presenting at field days in the summer, and harvesting, compiling data and preparing variety selection guides in the fall. 

Another responsibility Ransom took on when he was hired at NDSU was organizing volunteer crop judges for the annual North Dakota Winter Show. By 2018, he was recruiting up to 24 judges, who judged 200 crop samples submitted by 4-H and FFA students and others.

He says that one of the “most satisfying” memories of his career was seeing the Best of the Best meeting venues packed to capacity just a few years after initiating the annual regional Extension wheat and soybean meetings.

Changing Times

During his time at NDSU, Ransom saw changes in North Dakota cereal crops production. Corn acres grew from less than one million acres to more than 3.5 million acres and the state average corn yields increased by 30%. Barley shifted from mainly 6-row types to predominantly 2-row types. Spring wheat losses due to scab epidemics were reduced through the development of resistant cultivars and the judicious use of effective fungicides. The number of companies marketing spring wheat varieties also grew dramatically.

The research capacity of Ransom’s program grew with the procurement of new equipment. “When I joined NDSU, the program had very little equipment. We had to borrow a planter to plant our trials,” he says. “Currently, the program has multiple tractors with autosteer capability, a corn combine and a shared combine for small grain, both with state-of-the-art weighing systems, and precision planters for both small grains and corn.”

In recent years, Ransom’s research team implemented drones and learned how to use the data collected by drones to help farmers make management decisions. Research specialists Chad Deplazes and Darin Eisinger, and several graduate students, became licensed drone pilots and found it was a steep learning curve. The team experienced a few crashes and were challenged to learn how to stitch images together and determine how spectral data correlates to yield. 

Drones were the most useful to Ransom’s research when they were used to take aerial photographs of research plots. The images helped the team identify variability in the plots and find disease hotspots. This was especially helpful with corn because it is hard to see beyond the first few feet of the edge of the plot after tasseling. “A picture may be worth a thousand words and an aerial picture may save a thousand steps,” says Ransom.

View their drone videos at

Research Results

Ransom’s years of cereal crops research resulted in 70 journal articles, nine book chapters, and 10 Extension publications. Five selection guides also were published each year, totaling 90 guides over his career.

An important part of an Extension agronomist’s job is summarizing and communicating variety trial results to farmers. The Variety Selection Tool was born out of the need for an effective means of sharing results. Ransom collaborated with Jochum Wiersma, Extension agronomist at the University of Minnesota, on the project. The tool summarizes data and compares variety performance, making it possible for farmers to easily learn how the spring wheat varieties tested by NDSU and the University of Minnesota performed in tests near their farms. “It has become a powerful decision aid to many that use it,” says Ransom.  

Graduate Students

Ransom considered graduate student training an important part of his position. “There was and continues to be a high demand for graduates with training in agronomy,” he says. During his 18 years at NDSU, Ransom mentored four Ph.D. students, 12 M.S. students and at his retirement, two Ph.D. and two M.S. students were still progressing toward their degrees. “The students’ research allowed me to gain information and experience with new developments in agronomy that I could then share in my educational programs.”


In order to give his students a perspective of the challenges and opportunities farmers face outside the United States, Ransom regularly led his students on international trips to visit farmers and learn about research and extension activities in other countries. The places they visited included Mexico, Chile, Nepal, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Thailand, Vietnam and Ecuador. Farm size was small in many of these countries, and farmers often subsisted on what they produced. 

In addition, Ransom drew on his previous experience working in developing countries to provide technical assistance to government and non-government organizations and farmers through outreach activities in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal, Uganda and Ukraine. Most of these activities were funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through their Farmer-to-Farmer program. 

He has two stand-out memories of these outreach activities. “The first was organizing the Sisters in a convent farm in Uganda to plant a corn variety trial with hand hoes and string to form straight lines and to help them calibrate a backpack sprayer,” he shares. “The other was being followed by scores of young children on my morning jogs through the countryside in Rwanda.”  

Awards and Honors

Ransom was honored on several occasions for his work and service. 

In 2017, he was presented the George Washington Award by the NDSU Agriculture Collective in conjunction with NDSU Ag Week festivities. The student-selected award recognized his knowledge, hard work and determination to contribute to the agriculture community and industry. 

Ransom was awarded the U.S. President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation Volunteer Service Award in 2017 for his work in Senegal, Africa, where he provided more than 100 hours of service with Winrock International’s USAID funded Farmer-to-Farmer program. 

In 2018, he was chosen by the U.S. Durum Growers Association as the recipient of the Amber Award for his significant contributions to durum growers and the industry.


Ransom and his wife, Patty, have accepted a three-year assignment to preside over the Bismarck, North Dakota, Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They will oversee and train about 200 volunteers that serve the Church members who visit the Temple from North and South Dakota, parts of Montana, and Minnesota. 

He also plans to do some consulting and focus more attention on a non-profit that he and his wife developed, called Join Hands, which currently supports an agricultural project in Ecuador, among other projects. See for more information.  

We wish Joel and Patty a long and fulfilling retirement and best wishes in all of their endeavors!

Source: Joel Ransom
Editors: Kamie Beeson ( and Karen Hertsgaard (

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