Working in the weeds

3 Feb

Here’s another look back at warmer, greener times: Our September meeting with Dawn Refsell (’01 agronomy, MS ’03) in Lathrop, Mo.


Sometimes Dawn Refsell is a detective. As in, “Why did these weeds not respond to a herbicide applied by the farmer?”

Sometimes she’s a product developer, experimenting on different plants in the field.  As in, “How can we make this fungicide more effective?”

And sometimes she’s a technical service provider. As in, “Here I am on your farm. How can I help?”

Dawn has two degrees from Iowa State – a 2001 bachelor of science in agronomy and a 2003 master’s in crop production & physiology – and a PhD in agronomy with an emphasis in weed ecology from Kansas State University. She’s a field market development specialist for Valent USA Corp.

It’s an interesting time to be a weed expert.

“We’re going back to the ’80s and ’90s in terms of weed management,” she says. “We’re going back to the older chemistry and mixing with a little of the new.”

Dawn lives with her husband, Doug, in Lathrop, Mo. Her field territory is Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa, but she travels throughout the country. Her focus is row crops and any of the products Valent sells for those crops. In early September, for example, she spent a week in Mississippi, working with a herbicide on cotton and peanut plants. But mostly, she says, she works out of her truck.

Dawn grew up on a grain and livestock farm in Wallingford, Iowa (“a little speed-bump town.”) She was active in 4-H, and that connected her to Iowa State. All of her college roommates were 4-H friends. She was also a member of the second class of Hixson Scholars.

One of Dawn’s specialties is waterhemp.

“I wanted to study the weed ecology and why it grows,” she said. “I want to understand why the weed is there before we figure out how to kill it.”

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