Plenary Sessions

Plenary Session  Plant Health Connections – Soil Health – Plant Health – Food Security – Human Health

Monday, August 11
1:00 – 3:00 p.m.

A healthy soil with the optimum ranges of physical, chemical and biological properties is a prerequisite for the profitable production of healthy and safe food, feed, fiber and biofuel crops. High yields of healthy, safe, and high quality crops will improve farm profitability, agricultural sustainability, community life and food security and contributes in the fight against human diseases and poverty, thus illustrating the interconnections among all these topics. Plant pathology and plant pathologists contribute directly and/or indirectly in addressing these and the other grand challenges facing agriculture and society today.

Outstanding speakers and leaders in their fields will be addressing these interconnected and impactful topics during the plenary session. Dr. Harold van Es (Soil Scientist, Cornell University) will introduce you to the emerging concept of soil health, assessment protocols, sustainable management practices and the overall impact on soil functions. Dr. Jan E. Leach (Plant Pathologist, Colorado State University) will be highlighting the impact of soil health, and in particular soil health management practices on plant health and the role and connections of the Phytobiomes to plant health and productivity. Dr. Jennifer Ann Thomson (Microbiologist, University of Cape Town, SA) will be speaking on the connections of healthy plants and food availability on world food security and poverty issues. Dr. Thomson talk is provided through the Glenn Anderson Lectureship on World Food Security Award*.  

Featured Presenters:


Jan E. Leach is a University Distinguished Professor at Colorado State University and an Adjunct Scientist at the International Rice Research Institute. Her research focuses on understanding the molecular basis of durable disease resistance, particularly in rice-pathogen interactions. Leach is a Fellow and a past President of APS, and currently chairs the APS Public Policy Board. She is a Fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Microbiology. She served as President of the International Society of Molecular Plant–Microbe Interactions and Editor in Chief of Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions. She is Associate Editor of the Annual Reviews of Phytopathology. Leach has served on or chaired many advisory committees, including the U.S. Rice Genome Sequencing Project and the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity. Leach’s earned degrees from the University of Nebraska (B.S. and M.S. in Microbiology) and the University of Wisconsin (Ph.D. in Plant Pathology). She was a postdoctoral fellow at East Malling Research in Kent, England.


Harold van Es is Professor of Soil and Water Management and former Chair of the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at Cornell University. He received degrees from the University of Amsterdam, Iowa State University and North Carolina State University. He works on practical approaches to precision soil management, with current emphases on a holistic soil health management framework, and a computational tool for adaptive nitrogen management. He has published over 110 peer reviewed papers and chapters, co-authored a widely-read book on sustainable soil management (Building Soils for Better Crops), developed numerous extension articles and videos, and advised 45 graduate students. He teaches an undergraduate course in Soil Management for Sustainability, and a graduate course in Space-Time Statistics. He is a Fellow of both the Soil Science Society of America and the American Society of Agronomy.


Jennifer Thomson has a PhD in microbiology from Rhodes University in South Africa. She was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Thomson is now a Professor of Microbiology in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at University of Cape Town (UCT) ) in South Africa and her main current research interests are in the development of maize (corn) resistant to the African endemic maize streak virus (MSV) and tolerant to drought. Field trials of MSV resistant and drought tolerant maize lines are under way and these will be the first analyses and trials of a transgenic plant developed in Africa, for an African problem, using African plant genes. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa and of UCT. Honours received include the L’Oreal/UNESCO prize for Women in Science and an honorary doctorate from the Sorbonne in Paris. Dr. Thomson is a regular writer and speaker internationally on the subject of genetically modified organisms, especially crops and foods derived from them. She addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos, and the United Nations as the guest of Secretary General Kofi Annan. Dr. Thomson’s two books, ‘Genes for Africa’ and ‘Seeds for the Future’ are geared towards the interested layperson.

* Glenn Anderson Lectureship on World Food Security Award was established to commemorate the contributions of an outstanding, internationally recognized plant scientist toward the security of world food supply. The award sponsors lectures either at joint meetings of the Canadian and American Phytopathological Societies, at the International Congress of Plant Pathology, or other special events as agreed to by both the Canadian and American Phytopathological Societies, as circumstances permit.

Plenary Session  "Your Best Frenemy: Science, the Media and Making Your Point"

Tuesday, August 12
1:00 – 2:00 p.m.

Alan Bjerga - Author, "Endless Appetites: How the Commodities Casino Creates Hunger and Unrest;" Food and Agriculture Policy Reporter, Bloomberg News

With more numerous and diverse media than ever before, engaging with journalists is no longer a choice – it’s a necessity. But how can a scientist inform the public through the media without risking accuracy or integrity? Alan Bjerga, agriculture reporter for Bloomberg News, discusses ways scientists can better-inform the public while helping journalists perform their own function of giving audiences the information they want and need. The presentation will be followed with what promises to be a lively question-and-answer session!

Alan Bjerga is the author of the book "Endless Appetites: How the Commodities Casino Creates Hunger and Unrest." He covers agricultural policy for Bloomberg News and is a past president of the National Press Club and the North American Agricultural Journalists. In 2012 he joined the faculty of Georgetown University as an adjunct instructor. He is also a frequent contributor to Bloomberg Television and Bloomberg Businessweek magazine, and has discussed food and farming on National Public Radio, the BBC and PBS Newhour, among other outlets. He has been recognized for his work on hunger and agriculture by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, the New York Press Club, the Kansas Press Association, the North American Agricultural Journalists, and the Overseas Press Club.

Bjerga grew up on a farm near the town of Motley, Minnesota. The graduate of Concordia College (Moorhead, Minn.) and the University of Minnesota, began his career with the St. Paul Pioneer Press (Minn.) and also reported for the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Argus Leader and The Wichita Eagle (Kan.). He has competed for the title of “DC’s Funniest Journalist and moonlighted as a game-show contestant, appearing on both “Jeopardy!” and “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?”

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