Sommers a 2018 Farm Credit Colorado Agriculture Hall of Fame inductee
When Lee Sommers was studying at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, his mom wrote him letters, urging him to study agriculture.
Sommers was undeclared when he began college; he enjoyed mathematics, and after a couple of years, he declared a technical agriculture degree and took the academic track for his career.
Because of his success in that career field, he is one of four people who will be inducted into the 2018 Farm Credit Colorado Agriculture Hall of Fame.
Sommers grew up on a dairy farm, and around 1970 his family switched from a dairy to a hog operation for about 15 years. Then it was switched to a crop-focused operation, which Sommer’s brother, Gary, still operates.
Even with the agriculture background, though, it took his mother’s encouragement to find his concentration. But once he did, he went on to get his PhD, which he completed in 1971. Even still, he wasn’t 100 percent sure it was the exact career he wanted, but academia stood out to him.
“Faculty was quite appealing to me,” he said. “I enjoyed doing research and I enjoyed working with people.”
That led him a job at Perdue University in Lafayette, Ind., where his main research focus was soil and agriculture.
“My background really focused on soil chemistry and biology and how those disciplines could be used to attack problems in … agriculture,” Sommers said.
That work eventually led him to take a research sabbatical at Colorado State University to work with “one of the international leaders” in soil science research, Willard Lindsey.
Sommers was in Fort Collins, Colo., for only eight months in 1977, but he returned less than a decade later, this time as the head of the department of Soil and Crop Sciences.
Sommers wanted to transition into a larger leadership role, and was hired to start in August 1985 at CSU.
“I wanted to come back because I had a really positive impression of the university and the department from my sabbatical leave here, and of the positions I applied for, (CSU) was my first choice,” he said.
He stayed in that role for 11 years before becoming director of the Agricultural Experiment Station, which is a multi-college organization that supports applied research programs for seven of the university’s eight colleges.
That gave Sommers the opportunity to work with an array of research topics from different departments.
Sommers also was part of the planning and movement of programs to the Agricultural Research and Development Education Center, or ARDEC.
“I was able to identify some resources where we could expand some of the animal programs to include the feed intake unit, improve the sheep research facility and feed production facility,” he said.
Toward the end of his time there, he also worked with the FFA Foundation to build the CoBank Center for Agricultural Education, which opened September 2015.
“That facility is really the result of the fundraising efforts of the FFA Foundation,” Sommers said.
The center is north of ARDEC, and it includes the Farm Credit Colorado Agriculture Hall of Fame. Soon Sommers’ photo will join those of the other hall of fame inductees.
Sommers is best known for his research and paving the way for students to continue agricultural research at CSU. But working with students was the most satisfying part of his 42-year career.
“When I was a faculty members, both at Purdue and CSU — when I was department head, being able to interact with students — both the undergraduate and graduate students — was an extremely satisfying part of the job, and being able to kind of guide people,” he said. “And seeing what they’ve been able to accomplish after a number of years is extremely satisfying. I was always very dedicated to working with students and trying to provide them with the best information and the best guidance that we could at the time.” ❖
— Fox is a reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at (970) 392-4410, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @FoxonaFarm.