Gary O’Neill named as new NRCS State Conservationist

Gary O’Neill has been named at the new state conservationist for Oklahoma for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, effective April 21, 2013. Jason Weller, acting NRCS chief, made the announcement on April 11. O’Neill replaces Ron Hilliard who retired in January.

Gary O’Neill

“Gary O’Neill is a long time NRCS employee with a distinguished career,” Weller said. “He has served this agency well in various positions in four states over the past 30 years. Most notably, in addition to being assistant state conservationist in Oklahoma, he is also serving at the national level as the agency representative for the USDA Field to Market, Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture.”  He added that, “O’Neill also served at the headquarters level as acting national RC&D (Resource Conservation & Development) Program manager in 2009 and 2010.  He also served as acting state conservationist in Michigan in late 2011 and early 2012.”

O’Neill was raised on a dairy and small grains farm in Osage County and in Ponca City. He graduated from Oklahoma State University with a degree Agricultural Economics.  He began his career with NRCS in 1983 in Oklahoma as a watershed planner.  Seven years later, he moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he served as State Economist on the Ecological Sciences staff.  He was promoted to management analyst on the Strategic Planning and Oversight and Evaluation staff in the NRCS Midwest Regional Office in Madison, Wisconsin.  After eight years in that position he returned to Oklahoma and has served as RC&D Program manager, state administrative officer, and currently assistant state conservationist for Operations.

O’Neill said, “I look forward to helping Oklahoma NRCS continue to be viewed as conservation leaders and working closely with the partnerships that make this happen. NRCS has a critical mission in delivering conservation to Oklahoma farmers and ranchers.  Oklahoma has a rich conservation legacy  that is the result of the efforts of dedicated employees, strong partnerships, and innovative leadership.”  He also said, “Having been raised on a farm in Oklahoma, I have a great deal of passion for assisting agricultural producers address their conservation and natural resource issues in a way that can be economically viable.  The Farm Bill programs that NRCS administers have proven to be a great vehicle for making this happen.”

The announcement brought praise and support from members of the Oklahoma Conservation Partnership and former NRCS leaders. “The Oklahoma Conservation Commission enjoys an excellent working relationship with Gary,” said Mike Thralls, OCC executive director.  “We look forward to working with him as state conservationist,” Thralls said.  Clay Pope, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts said, “We are excited to see Gary named our state conservationist.  He has always been an outstanding partner and we look forward to working with him in this new capacity.”  Ron Hilliard, who retired as State Conservationist in January said that “Gary O’Neill is uniquely qualified to serve as state conservationist. He has great leadership ability and understands the importance of the Oklahoma Conservation Partnership working together to put conservation on the land.”

John Mueller, Texas NRCS state engineer, who has served as acting state conservationist for Oklahoma said, “I’m delighted that Gary has been selected as state conservationist. He has worked tirelessly throughout his career to serve as an advocate of conservation, and brings a wealth of experience to the job.  Gary has the respect of everyone he works with, and he truly understands what is important for the people of Oklahoma.  During the short time I have been here, I have really enjoyed working with Gary and couldn’t think of a better individual to serve in this capacity.”  “I also want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who welcomed me to Oklahoma.  It has been my pleasure to represent Oklahoma NRCS during this time, and I wish all of you the very best.”