by Lana Koepke Johnson
Charles Shapiro, agronomy and horticulture professor emeritus, officially retired after 34 years as the extension soil scientist and crop nutritionist at the University of Nebraska Northeast Research and Extension Center Haskell Agricultural Laboratory in Concord.
Shapiro’s entire Nebraska career focused on improving the efficiency of corn and soybean growth through improved nutrient efficiency – getting more nutrients into a crop results in higher yields for Nebraska crop producers and to the producer and less potential loss to the environment.
Richard Ferguson, interim department head of agronomy and horticulture, said Shapiro led Nebraska research and extension efforts on nitrogen fertilizer use efficiency and water quality impacts from fertilizer use, organic cropping systems and efficient use of livestock manure resources.
“His leadership in these areas will be greatly missed,” Ferguson said.
Gary Hergert, Nebraska agronomy professor emeritus, complimented Shapiro’s well-balanced and integrated research and extension program. "He worked closely with farmers, producer groups, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Nebraska Natural Resources Districts and industry to improve their understanding of the processes that affect where nitrogen goes in the environment," Hergert said.
Shapiro’s research and extension interests also included hail damage, manure management, organic farming, phosphorus nutrition, cover crops – even the fate of cattle implant chemicals in the environment.
Hergert praised Shapiro’s leadership on manure management research and education in Nebraska and the surrounding region. Shapiro's many publications on swine manure effluent effects on crops and buffer strips for reducing phosphorus in runoff are frequently referenced in other research publications.
"Charlie used many educational methods to reach clientele from demonstration plots, to written materials, radio, TV and web-based information and numerous on-farm demonstrations," Herbert said. "He was a major contributor to CropWatch over the years and did an excellent job of translating research into layman's language."
Shapiro helped establish Nebraska’s Comprehensive Nutrient Management Planning team and since 2000 has helped hundreds of livestock operations comply with federal and state environmental regulations.
Shapiro led a state-wide education effort on returning Farm Service Agency Conservation Reserve Program land to crop production in the mid-1990’s and again in 2013, Hergert noted. His statewide team provided tours, video conferences, publications and meetings for attendees.
In addition, Shapiro has established three long-term research projects to understand the longer-term implications of tillage, rotations and phosphorus management decisions.
“I appreciated Charles for his keen mind, ability to ask great questions and his careful approach to research and the resulting publications,” Hergert added. “He was a positive, thoughtful and encouraging graduate committee member as well as a good writer and thorough editor.”
Roger Elmore, agronomy professor and interim associate department head, said Shapiro provided sound, science-based programs at extension events in a way that everyone could understand. "He’s a great research scientist with a knack for teaching and application,” Elmore said.
Among Shapiro’s numerous awards was recognition of Fellow by the American Society of Agronomy in 2005. He also authored or co-authored countless peer-reviewed journal publications, book chapters and extension circulars.
Born and raised in a suburb north of New York City, his love of the outdoors and science and an interest in world hunger led him to pursue a career in agriculture. Inspired as a teen by a Purdue University professor at a summer leadership course on agricultural development in rural Mexico, he attended Cornell University and earned a bachelor’s degree in general agriculture. After graduation, he spent a year working on a dairy farm and a processing vegetable farm before moving to Nebraska to work for the Lancaster County Noxious Weed Board. He then attended graduate school at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln under the supervision of the late agronomy professor, Albert “Dale” Flowerday, completing a master’s degree in 1978 and a doctorate degree in 1982.
Shapiro then moved to Ecuador and worked as a research scientist for Castle & Cooke, Inc., owner of Dole brand bananas. In 1984, he returned to Nebraska as an assistant professor of research and extension at the Haskell Agricultural Laboratory where he remained until his Jan. 5 retirement.