Tom Oswald

Tom Oswald, a fourth generation farmer, combines soybeans on his farm near Cleghorn.

ISA remembers 'NoTillTom'

June 21, 2022 | Bethany Baratta

Tom Oswald, a fourth-generation farmer known for his inquisitive mind and advocacy on behalf of the soybean industry, has died. Oswald, of Cleghorn, passed away unexpectedly June 16. He was 63.

Tom served the soybean industry in various capacities for more than 20 years. He served on the county level, then became director and president of the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) from 2014-2015. He was serving as a national director and chair of the audit and evaluation committee for the United Soybean Board (USB). Oswald was also past president of the Cherokee County Farm Bureau, a Cherokee County Soil Commissioner, and member of the Cherokee Chamber of Commerce Agri-Business Committee.

Fellow ISA and USB Director April Hemmes of Hampton says the news of Tom’s death is a shock to  farmers and ag leaders who knew him.

“Everyone is in shock, and they all know that he will be missed as a leader in the ag world.”

Hemmes says Tom would often challenge others during board meetings.

“Tom always had a question for you or the speaker at the meeting. And then when discussion came around about any subject, you would see him tilt back in his chair, look up for a while, then after he was done organizing his thoughts he would begin to speak,” she says.

“He was always thinking outside the box; he was the ‘what if’ guy in the room. I will miss the banter he and I used to have, the exchanging of ideas and the fact that in decision making he always put what was best for the farmer first.”

As ISA president, Tom’s ‘farmer first’ approach extended to the board for which he guided. Wayne Fredericks, who succeeded Tom as president of the ISA, looked to him as a mentor.

“Tom reached out and did a lot to help me learn and get adjusted,” says Fredericks, of Osage. “I learned the ropes, and we became friends right away.”

In addition to countless meetings and trips they took together as directors domestically and abroad, Fredericks and Tom’s friendship extended outside of the ISA. When the COVID-19 pandemic restricted traveling, they stayed in touch with a virtual happy hour.

The two were connected through their farming beliefs. Tom was a staunch supporter of strip-till and no-till farming, often voicing his support of the practices based on decades of experience. His license plate was a traveling billboard for who he was and what he believed in; it read ‘NoTilTm”, short for “NoTillTom,” and was adorned in cardinal and gold, favoring Iowa State University, where he earned his Bachelor of Science and his Master of Agriculture degrees.

“We both farm alike,” Fredericks says. “We are both heavily into conservation, no-till, strip-till, so we had that commonality as well. It was an honor and pleasure to work under him.”

When Tom believed in something, he believed in it wholeheartedly, Fredericks notes.

“He has been a leader, a national speaker and I can’t say enough about his leadership in conservation within the soy world,” he says.

Perhaps his “about me” section of his Twitter account said it best: “My tweets are my own thoughts and opinions generated from a brew of life experiences.”

Tom got his first GPS in 1996 and took to the AgTalk online forum to learn from farmers who had already worked out the kinks in their systems.

And he never stopped learning.

“I have worked with many farmers leaders over the years but when I say Tom was a unique person I mean it in the most positive way,” says ISA CEO Kirk Leeds. “I’m not sure I have ever worked alongside a more thoughtful and reflective leader. On any issue being considered, Tom would ask really insightful questions and share a perspective that needed to be considered.

“He took his leadership role in serving Iowa's soybean farmers very seriously. Our organization and our industry are better because of Tom Oswald and he will be missed by all that were fortunate to know him.”

ISA President Robb Ewoldt of Davenport says Oswald’s contributions to conservations challenged others to think broadly.

“He was all about soybeans and no-till farming,” says Ewoldt. “Our association, our industry, and our state are better because of Tom.”

ISA At-Large Director and USB Director Lindsay Greiner of Keota says Oswald’s legacy extends beyond the boardrooms in which he served.

“Tom was a true leader who wasn’t afraid to take different paths toward a solution,” says Greiner, a past ISA president. “Personally, Tom was a thoughtful person. He was always there to offer kind, thoughtful words of advice and words of encouragement to others around him. Tom will be greatly missed in the soybean world, and his contributions will live on for many years to come. Godspeed.”

See Tom’s full obituary and service information here:

Kriss Nelson and Jeff Hutton contributed to this story.