Kristine “Kris” Nichols
Dr. Kristine Nichols is a leader in the movement to rebuild the health of our soils for the sustainability of global food production.
Position: Research Soil Microbiologist at Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agriculture Research Service facility
Family: My extended family lives in Lake Benton, a small town in southwestern Minnesota, where my parents have own a farm since I was born. However, I was born in Milbank, S.D. as my father was a high school teacher in South Shore, S.D. I lived in Lake Benton and the St. Paul, Minn., area for the remainder of my elementary and high school years because my father was a state senator and then Commissioner of Agriculture for Minnesota. My immediate family consists of three dogs and a domestic partner. We have all shared a house in northwest Mandan for about seven years.
Hobbies: Gardening, minor home repair and renovations, playing with my dogs, and reading
1. Volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and at the Ruth Meyer Hospitality House
2. Organized donation activities at my workplace to collect shoes for Soles 4 Souls and to collect toys, food, personal hygiene items and clothing for AID Inc., in Mandan
3. Member of Unitarian Universalist Church
Career path: My career path is to continue to work in agriculture as a research scientist. I enjoy speaking to farmers, agri-business professionals, university and Natural Resources Conservation Service personnel and elementary, high school and university students about soil quality and want to continue these outreach activities. I like developing new ways to demonstrate soil quality and showing people the wide variety of organisms living in the soil while explaining how important they are to life on planet Earth. I also want to expand my research program to understand more about how farming practices such as no-till, complex crop rotations and cover crops impact soil quality to include local producers, graduate students and my fellow Agriculture Research Service and university scientists.
1. Dr. Iris Charvat, a Plant Biology instructor and researcher at the University of Minnesota
2. Dr. Joseph Morton, a Plant Pathology instructor and researcher at West Virginia University
3. Dr. Sara Wright, a former Research Soil Scientist with USDA-Agriculture Research Service in Beltsville, Md.
Briefly, tell us about yourself: I am a Research Soil Microbiologist with the USDA-Agriculture Research Service, Northern Great Plains Research Laboratory in Mandan. I have worked for the USDA for more than 11 years, starting in Beltsville, Md. I earned Bachelor of Science degrees in plant biology and genetics and cell biology from the University of Minnesota in 1995, a master’s degree in environmental microbiology for West Virginia University, and a Ph.D. in soil science from the University of Maryland. Since 1993, I have been doing research on a symbiotic, beneficial soil fungus, which helps plants acquire nutrients from the soil and assists in the formation of soil aggregates for better soil quality. My research examines how farming practices impact soil quality. Improvements in soil quality increase water infiltration into soil to reduce erosion and provide more water for plant growth and nutrient availability for reduced usage of synthetic fertilizers and greater plant growth.
What motivates you? Knowing I can make a difference in the economic and environmental sustainability of family farms and teaching children and adults about the importance of soil
Challenges in your career path: Balancing research and outreach activities in my job.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken? Driving out to West Virginia by myself to start graduate school at school in a town I had never seen and working under a major professor I had never met and only talked to a few times on the phone.
Anything of which you’re particularly proud? Being recognized as a good enough speaker and soil quality instructor to be invited to speak at farmer meetings and schools throughout the U.S. in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, Kansas, Nebraska, Pennsylvania and North Carolina and internationally in Australia, Russia and Ukraine.
What advice would you offer other young professionals? I would advise other young professionals to recognize that life is a journey and not a destination.
What are you thankful for? I am thankful for my friends and family and the lessons I have learned from all of the people I have encountered throughout my life.
What do you see yourself doing in 10 years? In 10 years, I see myself working with farmers and others in agriculture to improve agroecosystem economic and environmental sustainability by increasing plant production under low input systems.
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