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Stewards of the Future: Speakers Day Two

*Please note that Bios/Headshots will be posted as they become available


MeeCee Baker, Ph.D.
President and Chief Executive Officer, Versant Strategies

Dr. Baker is the president and chief executive officer of Versant Strategies, a government affairs firm specializing in agribusiness and rural affairs.  Since becoming a Versant partner in May 2009, she has shepherded the growth of the firm from six to over 20 clients, including agricultural industry giants such as Monsanto.  Prior to joining Versant Strategies, Dr. Baker was appointed by former Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell to the executive office of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA).  While there, she was charged with coordinating the department’s education and outreach and oversaw the seasonal farm labor task force.  Dr. Baker also spent over 20 years behind a teacher’s desk at secondary and university levels.  She served on the faculty at Penn State University and currently holds an adjunct professorship at North Carolina State University.  She has co-authored two nationally-utilized textbooks and was the first female elected as the national president of the National Association of Agricultural Educators.  In addition, Dr. Baker was a former president of the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Alumni Society.  Her master’s degree in agricultural economics was earned from the University of Delaware and her Ph.D. in agricultural education was awarded by the Pennsylvania State University.  She has authored or presented dozens of professional articles.  Dr. Baker has served on several advisory committees including a United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization Board.

Joel K. Bourne, Jr.
Contributing Writer, National Geographic

Mr. Bourne is an award-winning journalist who has covered national and international environmental issues for the past 20 years.  A former senior editor for the environment for National Geographic, he has reported on numerous controversial issues including oil exploration in Alaska, the future of New Orleans, the global food crisis, and most recently the cover story on the BP oil spill in the October 2010 issue. He seems to have a pulse on breaking news.  Mr. Bourne’s 2004 National Geographic feature on Louisiana’s wetland loss reported the hurricane threat to New Orleans ten months before Hurricane Katrina devastated the city.  His October 2007 article on biofuels was part of a suite of stories that won the magazine top honors for Outstanding Explanatory Reporting from the Society of Environmental Journalists in 2008, and his ongoing coverage of food sourcing and sustainability echo the wave of pop culture films and books about this increasingly important topic.  A powerful and trusted voice in the media, he holds a bachelor of science in agronomy from North Carolina State University and a master’s in journalism from Columbia University. Mr. Bourne has appeared on numerous television and radio programs including CNN‘s American Morning, CNN International, the National Geographic Channel and NPR.  Prior to his tenure at National Geographic, his work appeared in National Geographic Adventure, National Geographic Traveler, Audubon, Science, Outside and many other publications.

Bill Culpepper
President and Chief Executive Officer, SePRO

Mr. Culpepper is a proven leader in developing specialty products into best of class, growing, and sustainable businesses.  He developed his work ethic on the family farm where he was raised in Nash County, North Carolina.  After graduating from North Carolina State University, Mr. Culpepper joined the Elanco division of Eli Lilly and Company where he held a number of positions for the next 26 years. Throughout his career at Eli Lilly, Mr. Culpepper served on the boards of directors and as president of a number of specialty trade associations and was a founder of Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment (RISE), the Washington D.C. - based trade association representing the specialty chemical industry.  He also served four years on the RISE governing board and was chairman in 1992.  In 1993, Mr. Culpepper started SePRO Corporation, a specialty environmental products company with a mission to provide plant protection and plant management products and services that fit specialized market segments that are often outside of the core business strategy of large manufacturers.  Today, Mr. Culpepper is the president and CEO of SePRO Corporation, which is the sole owner of ParaPRO LLC.

Elizabeth (Beth) Foster
Farmer, North Carolina; Secretary, Blackland Farm Managers Association

Mrs. Foster currently is involved in multiple farming operations including her very own and also with her husband, Bryan.  Together they currently tend about 11,000 acres of cotton, wheat, corn, soybeans and rapeseed in North Carolina’s Washington and Tyrrell counties. Mrs. Foster also currently serves as secretary and treasurer of the Blackland Farm Managers Association, secretary for her local drainage district, committee member for the South Shore Agricultural History Project, and as member of the NC Department of Agriculture’s advisory group, the “Commissioner’s Circle”.  She was raised in a farming family, married into a farming family and now is raising her own farming family, three precious children ages eleven, seven and two. 


James B. Hunt, Jr.
Governor, State of North Carolina, 1977-1985, 1993-2001; Chair Emeritus, Institute for Emerging Issues

Former Governor Jim Hunt was the first North Carolina (NC) governor to be elected to consecutive four-year terms and is the state’s longest serving chief executive with sixteen years in office. He always understood and taught the people of NC about the importance of education in developing a skilled and creative workforce. Governor Hunt was a tireless leader for NC economic development and had the state create both the Microelectronics Center of NC and the NC Biotechnology Center.  Throughout his long career, he has been a strong advocate for public education. As governor, his influence was visible nationally as creator of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and chair of the National Commission on Teaching and American’s Future. He championed creation of the NC School of Science and Mathematics and NC State’s Centennial Campus where the futuristic Hunt Library is located. In early childhood education, his Smart Start program received the prestigious Innovations in American Government Award from the Ford Foundation and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He has provided education leadership as chairman of the National Education Goals Panel, served as board vice chair of Achieve, Inc., and chaired the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. Today, he continues his lifelong advocacy of education through the Hunt Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy.

Senator Brent Jackson
State of North Carolina; Co-founder, Jackson Farming Company

Senator Jackson is the co-chairman of the Senate Appropriations/Base Budget Committee, Joint Environmental Review Commission, Joint Agriculture and Forestry Awareness Study Commission and the Agriculture and Rural Caucus of the North Carolina General Assembly. He also sits on the Senate Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources Committee, Senate Finance Committee, Rules and Operations of the Senate Committee and Senate State and Local Government Committee. In 2014, he was elected to the Legislative Board of the international organization State Agriculture and Rural Leaders. Senator Jackson has been involved in agriculture for over 30 years and is the co-founder of Jackson Farming Company of Autryville. He owns 2,000 acres and has 4,300 acres (including double cropped acres) under production. Jackson Farming Company grows watermelons, cantaloupes, honeydews, strawberries, pumpkins, squash, slicer cucumbers, corn, wheat, soybeans, peanuts and flue-cured tobacco. Senator Jackson owns two country grain elevators for the purpose of purchasing and storing corn, small grains and wheat from his farm and area farmers. In 2005, he expanded and built a liquid fertilizer plant, which supplies his farms and area farmers with drip fertilizer.

Richard Linton, PhD
Dean, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, North Carolina State University

Dr. Linton earned a bachelor’s degree in biology, a master’s degree in food science, and a doctorate in food science from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.  Prior to his current role, Dr. Linton served as department chair of Food Science and Technology at the Ohio State University, and as a faculty member of the Department of Food Science at Purdue University.  His area of expertise is development and implementation of food safety management programs, including Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point systems.  Throughout his career, Dr. Linton has received several service awards, including the Purdue University Extension Award of Merit and Purdue University Faculty Scholar.  The Institute of Food Technologists has recognized him for his leadership with the Howard Macy Award and the Myron Solberg Award.  Dr. Linton has been serving as the dean of College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) since 2012, leading a college of over 325 faculty members in 16 different departments, over 2500 undergraduate students, and nearly 750 graduate students. He currently leads more than 650 different agriculture-related research projects in CALS, and oversees 18 research farms, 20 field operations, and 6 aquaculture facilities.  Under his direction, the college has developed a new strategic plan that focuses on “building people, programs, and partnerships.”  Collaboration with industry and government is critical to the mission of the college.

Richard McKellogg
Director, Produce and Floral Merchandising, Lowes Foods

Mr. McKellogg directs all aspects of produce and floral merchandising for Lowes Foods.  Lowes Foods, a Winston-Salem-based grocery chain with more than 100 stores in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, is increasing efforts to buy food directly from small to midsized local farmers.  With the help of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Lowes Foods has quadrupled the number of small and mid-sized farmers they buy from over the past six years.  Previously, from 1994 to 2000, he held positions at Lowes Foods including store director, produce field merchandiser, produce/floral category manager, and district manager.  He also participated in The Food Dialogues: North Carolina to address questions related to what is on our plates and how our food is raised and grown.  Mr. McKellogg attended Fullerton College in California.

Philip "Phil" Miller, Ph.D.
Vice President, Global Government and Regulatory Affairs, Monsanto

Dr. Miller joined Monsanto in 1994 and has held numerous roles in the Monsanto Technology organization spanning Chemical Discovery and Biotechnology Research & Development. His key roles include director of Biotechnology Crop Yield Enhancement and Crop Genomics research, Monsanto/Ceres Research Collaboration Lead, director of the Monsanto Connecticut Research Center and Biotechnology Corn Pipeline Strategy Lead. Prior to his current role, Dr. Miller served as vice president of U.S. Product Management and vice president of U.S. Technology Development. He obtained his Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology from the University of Florida. Dr. Miller serves on United States Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Health, National Academy of Sciences – National Research Council, and National Science Foundation sponsored review panels/advisory boards, and as a scientific reviewer for numerous journals. He is the inventor on more than 20 patents and an author on 17 scientific papers and book chapters. He has represented Monsanto on the Qualisoy Board, the Grower Advisory Council, and is a member of Monsanto’s Management Advisory Council.

Larry Roberts
President, Roberts Business Group

Mr. Roberts is an international consultant, facilitator, and speaker specializing in helping organizations increase their sales, communications, productivity and customer loyalty. He earned a degree in economics and marketing from North Carolina State University, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in 1966 and was soon commissioned as an officer in the United States Navy. Mr. Roberts earned his wings and served as a carrier-based pilot flying A-6 Intruders for six years. In 1970, he was awarded a Navy Commendation Medal for Heroic Achievement. After a medical discharge, he began a 16 year career with IBM, gaining extensive sales and management experience. He served as a manager at several levels within IBM and participated in the development of a very successful executive customer training program.  In 1985 he moved to Melbourne, Australia where he built and managed the Pacific Rim IBM executive education program. Upon returning to the United States, he served as vice president of sales for two international training companies and has consulted with many Fortune 500 customers. Currently, he is president of Roberts Business Group and consults with companies regarding organizational development, strategic planning, change management and sales training. He devotes much of his time to senior executive coaching and mentoring and is a frequent speaker at sales conventions and executive retreats.


Steve Troxler
Commissioner, North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

Commissioner Troxler has spent his entire career in agriculture as founder, owner and operator of Troxler Farms.  Over the years, the family-owned farm has produced tobacco, wheat, vegetables and soybeans. Since taking office in 2005, his focus has been on developing new markets for North Carolina farm products, preserving working farms and protecting the state’s food supply.  He is past president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA), a former chairman of NASDA’s Food Regulation and Nutrition Committee and served as president of the Southern Association of State Departments of Agriculture. Commissioner Troxler serves on numerous boards and commissions across the state including the North Carolina Agricultural Biotechnology Advisory Council. He was recognized with the 2013 Forest Conservationist of the Year Award from the N.C. Wildlife Federation and recently he was inducted as an honorary member of the National FarmHouse Fraternity. During his career, he has been honored with the Conservation Guardian Award of the Guilford County Soil Conservation Service, the Phillip Morris Outstanding Young Tobacco Farmer Award, the Outstanding Young Farmer Award from the North Carolina Jaycees, the N.C. Agricultural Extension Service’s Outstanding Service Award, the Certificate of Merit from the N.C. State University (NCSU) chapter of Gamma Sigma Delta agricultural honor society, and an Honorary State FFA Degree. His family was named “Tobacco Farm Family of the Year” by the Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina.  Over the years, Commissioner Troxler has held leadership positions in numerous agricultural and community organizations.  He is a graduate of NCSU where he earned his bachelor of science in conservation, with a concentration in environmental studies. 

Randy Woodson, Ph.D.
Chancellor, North Carolina State University

Dr. Woodson, the fourteenth chancellor of North Carolina State University (NCSU), oversees the largest university in North Carolina with more than 34,000 students and a budget of $1.4 billion.  Under his leadership, NCSU has built upon its reputation as a preeminent research institution and has witnessed many transformative changes including the opening of the James B. Hunt Jr. Library on Centennial Campus, the launch of the College of Sciences and the completion of the Lonnie Poole Golf Course. Even in the face of unprecedented financial challenges, these advances were made possible thanks to Woodson's Strategic Plan, which aligned the university for greater effectiveness, efficiency and most importantly, greater student success. As the landscape of funding for public universities continues to change, NCSU consistently ranks in the Top 5 best values among public universities in the United States, according to publications like the Wall Street Journal and the Princeton Review. Dr. Woodson has extensive experience as a member of served as executive vice president for Academic Affairs. Dr. Woodson is an internationally renowned plant university faculty and administration with a reputation for consensus building throughout his 30 year career in higher education. He came to North Carolina from Purdue University, where he most recently molecular biologist specializing in reproductive processes in agricultural crops. He earned his undergraduate degree in horticulture from the University of Arkansas and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in plant physiology from Cornell University.

Larry Wooten
President, North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation

Mr. Wooten has served as president of the North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation since 1999.  For more than 20 years, he ran a diversified tobacco and grain farming operation with his brother. He currently serves on the North Carolina Agricultural Biotechnology Advisory Council and has served on the board of the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Pender County Board of Education, and the North Carolina Board of Agriculture.