A farmer and master on-farm researcher, Dick Thompson died on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, at Israel Family Hospice House in Ames. Dick, 81, was the co-founder of Practical Farmers of Iowa and a guiding light for the PFI organization since its founding in 1985. He farmed with his family near Boone in central Iowa. Dick and his wife Sharon were named Iowa Master Farmers by Wallaces Farmer magazine in 2003.
Dick and Sharon hosted more than 41,000 visitors and conducted more than 52 research projects on their farm since 1987. On-farm research is at the heart of Practical Farmers of Iowa's farmer-to-farmer organization, and since the organization's inception, Dick led the way. Dick and Sharon were recognized as Master Researchers of Practical Farmers in 2013, and Dick last presented his research results at the 2013 PFI Annual Conference in Ames.
PFI began an Iowa Master Researcher Award for its members and the first such awards were presented in February 2013. Eleven members of PFI were selected to receive them, including Dick and Sharon Thompson.
In 1968 Dick Thompson decided to develop a more sustainable way of farming
Interviewed for an article in Wallaces Farmer in 2003 when he was named a Master Farmer, Dick Thompson explained why he decided to change to what he termed "a more balanced farming system" in 1968. He said he wanted to move to a more sustainable system, one that reduced erosion, improved soil health and saved him money. In 1968 he switched from a continuous corn and a corn-soybean rotation and went back to using a crop rotation of corn-soybeans-corn-oats-hay.
Thompson was one of the first farmers in his area to reduce purchased chemicals, and thus raised eyebrows in his community. "Our withdrawal from chemical inputs did not speak to our neighbors," he said. "Most of our financially stressed farmers perceived the change to be too extreme, too much too fast."