Dr. William E. Larson, of Shoreview, a retired University of Minnesota soil scientist, died July 16. Born on Aug. 7, 1921, Dr. Larson was raised on a family farm in Nebraska.
Known as “Mr. Tillage,” he was a steadfast champion of conservation tillage, a technique that effectively reduces soil erosion by loosening soil without inverting it. By allowing crop residue to remain on the surface, erosion can sometimes be reduced by more than 50 percent. Larson worked tirelessly with national databases to help develop the means to accurately assess soil quality. His work to develop measures for soil quality and degradation aided the fight to preserve soil around the world. His work influenced national policies guiding the use of crop residue to enhance soil conservation.
Dr. Larson received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agronomy in 1944 and 1946 from the University of Nebraska, then went on to earn a doctorate in soil science in 1949 from Iowa State University. He was on the faculty at Iowa State in 1949 as an assistant professor. He then joined the Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture, at Montana State University in Bozeman from 1950 to 1954. He returned to Iowa State in 1954 until 1967, taking a one-year leave as a Senior Fulbright Scholar in 1965-1966 to work at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization Lab in Australia.
He moved to the University of Minnesota in 1967 and served as research leader of the ARS Soil Management Unit in St. Paul until 1982 and then as head of the Department of Soil Science from 1982 until he retired in 1989.
He received numerous awards and recognitions, including the Siehl Prize for Excellence in Agriculture from the U in 1994. In 2001, he was inducted into the Science Hall of Fame of the Agricultural Research Service, USDA.
He is survived by his wife, Ruthelaine, and four children, Larry, Stephen, Suzanne and Kathy Nesler, and seven grandchildren. The couple lived in Shoreview for 46 years.