Tributes poured in from across Iowa and the nation last week following the unexpected death of Bill Northey, who served more than a decade as Iowa’s secretary of agriculture in addition to numerous other leadership positions. 

Northey, 64, was a tireless champion, defender and promoter of farmers and agriculture at both the state and federal levels, creating a legacy that will continue to impact farm families in Iowa and across the United States for years to come, said Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) President Brent Johnson. 

“It is impossible to completely describe Bill’s impact on agriculture,” said Johnson. “Personally, I feel fortunate to have known Bill so well. I saw him as a leader, a mentor and a friend. It didn’t matter if we were talking about the latest heavy hitting agriculture issue or tractors or family; Bill was always an intensive listener, and I never saw him distracted by what was happening in the background or who walked into the room. When talking with Bill, Bill was talking with you.”

Northey was elected Iowa Secretary of Agriculture in 2006, a role he held for 11 years. 

“Bill brought a farmer’s work ethic to every aspect of his life, and he was tireless in promoting our state, its people and our agriculture,” said Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig, who succeeded Northey. “As secretary, he had a tremendously positive impact on our state and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, but his influence went well beyond our borders. Whether it was on issues like soil conservation, water quality, renewable energy, foreign animal disease preparedness or trade, Bill was respected nationally and internationally.”

In 2018, Northey became the nation’s first undersecretary for farm production and conservation at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), serving until 2021. IFBF’s Johnson noted that Northey never forgot his roots, parking his old F150 farm truck in the USDA parking lot alongside fancy late-model luxury vehicles.

Northey was the CEO of the Agribusiness Association of Iowa (AAI) at the time of his death.

“The state of Iowa, and all of agriculture, has lost a great leader who has left his mark on future generations and will be greatly missed,” AAI said in a statement. “Bill was a tireless advocate for agriculture and a beloved leader for the entire AAI staff and organization.”

Northey graduated from Iowa State University in 1981 and began farming near Spirit Lake. He served as president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association and later the National Corn Growers Association. He also served in many other leadership roles, including on the Iowa USDA Farm Service Agency State Committee, on the Ag Ventures Alliance board, as a Dickinson County Soil and Water Conservation District commissioner, and as president and committee chairman of the Dickinson County Farm Bureau. He co-founded and served as president of Innovative Growers LLC, a farmer-owned specialty grain supply network.

His grandfather, E. Howard Hill, served as Iowa Farm Bureau president from 1947-1963.

Northey is survived by his wife, Cindy; his mother, Margaret Northey; daughters Jessica (Thomas) Meierotto, Emily (Eric) Brown and Katie (Eric) Mattson; and six grandchildren. He was predeceased by his father, Wayne Northey.

Funeral services were held last weekend in West Des Moines. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to GoServ Global,, 310 East Broadway St,, Eagle Grove, Iowa 50533, or the Bill Northey Memorial Fund in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University. Contributions can be made online at or mailed to the Iowa State University Foundation, 2505 University Blvd, P.O. Box 2230, Ames, Iowa 50010.