Internationally known soil specialist retires from Texas A&M

Writer: Kay Ledbetter, 806-677-5608, skledbetter@ag.tamu.edu
Contact: Dr. Sam Feagley, 979-845-1460, s-feagley@tamu.edu

COLLEGE STATION – Students, soil fertility and nutrient management in Texas and beyond have been major parts of Dr. Sam Feagley’s life for many years, and all are areas where he hopes he has “made a difference.”

Dr. Sam Feagley, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service state soil environmental specialist in College Station, to retire Dec. 31. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo)

Feagley, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service state soil environmental specialist in College Station, will walk away from his soil-testing equipment and his professor’s place at the front of the class when he retires Dec. 31 after more than 22 years at Texas A&M University.

He is known nationally and internationally for his research in nutrient management from organic and inorganic nutrient applications, land reclamation of surface-mined lands, saline/sodic soil remediation and revision of the Texas Phosphorus Index.

Feagley said his career has been a dream come true.

“Dr. Murray Milford taught basic soil science at Texas A&M and was the best professor I ever had,” he said. “I thought once during class, I want to be a teacher some day and if I can be almost as good as him, I’d be a success. And if I could come back to A&M, what a dream come true. I did finally make it back to the basic soil science classroom 32 years later.”

He joined the Texas A&M soil and crop sciences department in 1995. With nine soil scientists retiring from 1999 to 2011, Feagley eventually moved from 100 percent AgriLife Extension to 75 percent teaching and 25 percent AgriLife Extension, taking on teaching responsibilities for Soil Science, Reclamation of Drastically Altered Lands, and a study abroad class to Brazil, Brazilian Agriculture and Food Production Systems.

“Dr. Feagley has carried on a long tradition of excellence in our introductory soil science class,” said Dr. David Baltensperger, head of the Texas A&M department of soil and crop sciences in College Station.

Dr. Larry Redmon, soil and crop sciences associate department head and AgriLife Extension program leader in College Station, added, “Dr. Feagley is one of the most respected instructors in the department of soil and crop sciences.”

Feagley has taught more than 3,000 students over the years, and his connection with many continued after graduation. He was known for helping former students obtain a job with an environmental firm and/or helping them when working with state and federal guidelines, rules and regulations.

But the department leaders say it is Feagley’s contributions beyond the classroom that have earned him wide acclaim.

“Sam has provided exceptional leadership in facilitating science-based environmental regulations,” Baltensperger said. “His leadership in mine reclamation programs has been of tremendous value to the industry.”

And he has been the AgriLife Extension go-to resource regarding the environmental management of soils, Redmon said.

“I guess in working with environmental soil remediation over the years, the greatest satisfaction came when we were able to show regulators we were not recommending things that were biased, and they were accepting of our advice,” Feagley said. “We’ve been able to get some regulations changed. Those are where you look back and say ‘We made a difference.’”

Examples he gave from Louisiana included working with the rice industry to show many of their management practices were actually improving the water quality in the drainage water-receiving bayous, which helped ease some regulations being imposed on growers. Most producers accepted and implemented changes that improved the water quality.

He also worked with the lignite mining industry in Louisiana on their reclamation process using topsoil substitutes that actually improved productivity of the land better than native soils. This was shown by other researchers in Texas as well.

“It’s changed the regulations and allowed the mining companies a little more flexibility as to how they reconstructed their topsoil,” Feagley said.

Also in Louisiana, he said they demonstrated that a declining swamp could be used for the tertiary treatment of municipal effluent and actually increase the productivity of the swamp and renew it at the same time as the remediation of nutrients from the effluent.

When he moved to Texas and began working with the lignite mining industry here, Feagley said he helped with a workshop to train science teachers about the chemistry of the soils, the overburden and how the environment is put back together after a tremendous disturbance.

“It’s very difficult to tell what has been mined and what hasn’t been mined, and seeing that light bulb go off when the teachers are viewing the land is always rewarding,” he said.

But Feagley said he probably spent the most time looking at phosphorus in applied manures from the animal feeding industry and revising the Texas Phosphorus Index for adding nutrients to the soil.

“Through that research, both the U.S. Department of Agriculture/Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have accepted our methods of analysis and recommendations for phosphorus,” he said.

“Before our research, there were three different methods of extraction and two methods of analysis for phosphorus. We were able to change that to one extraction and method of analysis, taking a lot of the variability out of the analysis TCEQ was seeing on the permitted fields.”

Feagley said he also worked with NRCS to develop a course to certify Texas nutrient management specialists. The Environmental Protection Agency and USDA in 1999 required each state to develop certification for specialists for animal feeding operations.

“We in the Texas A&M soil and crop sciences department got together with NRCS personnel and worked on soil fertility, testing, and rules and regulations,” he said. “We developed a 20-hour course, which is still being taught. Texas was the first state to implement the course and several others patterned their state programs after ours.”

Feagley authored over 50 peer-reviewed publications and has taught almost 15,000 people over the years through his AgriLife Extension county, Master Gardener and Master Naturalist programming.

He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Texas A&M and his doctorate from the University of Missouri. From there he went to Louisiana State University where he had a teaching and research position for 16 years.

While there, he was instrumental in the request for and development of the college level curricula, Environmental Management Systems or EMS, and became the adviser for these students. EMS was designed to focus students on soil, water or air environmental areas. The soil and water areas had more science and lab hours than the basic science degrees at LSU. When he left LSU, he was advising over 200 students in EMS.

Feagley has been awarded numerous teaching awards from LSU and Texas A&M. At LSU he received the Outstanding Professor in Agronomy, Agriculture Students Association Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching in the College of Agriculture, Joe E. Sedberry Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award in the College of Agriculture, and Student Government Outstanding Teacher in the College of Agriculture.

At Texas A&M, he received the Texas A&M AgriLife Vice Chancellor’s Award of Excellence-Teaching, the Special Achievement Award for Teaching in Soil and Crop Sciences, Outstanding Teacher in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Gamma Sigma Delta and Honor Professor Award in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

He is involved in several national societies, and has received the Soil Science Society of America Council of Soil Science Examiners Outstanding Service Award and Irrometer Professional Certification Service Award. Through the American Society of Agronomy, he received the Fellow Award and Agronomy Resident Teaching Award.

Feagley said he looks forward to spending more time with his family, doing some consulting and finally tackling his wife’s “honey-do” list.

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