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Leaders in ag: Elwynn Taylor has served Iowa producers for 40 years

By Staff | Jul 22, 2019

Elwynn Taylor, Iowa State University Extension climatologist emeritus visits with Dale Jensen after Taylor’s presentation at the Farm News Ag Show in Emmetsburg last month.



For the past 40 years, S. Elwynn Taylor has been a popular voice for agriculture – one that many producers have depended on.

Taylor, Iowa State University Extension climatologist emeritus, is well known for his analysis of weather influences throughout the Midwest and is also widely recognized for his clear explanations of the complexities of long-term weather variability.

Taylor said it was at a young age that he made his career decision.

“From age 12, I was a child at an agronomy department that my father was a professor of agronomy at,” he said. “Somehow, I was attracted to that. My father was interested in the soils and I was interested in the weather and agronomy is interested in them both and I eventually became associated with the Iowa State University Department of Agronomy as their Extension climatologist.”

Prior to coming to ISU, Taylor was a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Alabama and received his education in botany at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, and completed his doctoral studies at Washington University in St. Louis in 1970.

“I came to Iowa in 1979 so it hasn’t been a whole lot of years. It has come really fast for me. It’s been a wonderful time. All I want to say is, I moved to Iowa as quickly as I possibly could and I am glad I did,” he said.

Taylor was a pioneer in his field.

“As best as we can tell, I am the first agricultural meteorologist/climatologist for Extension of any school in the nation,” he said. “I don’t know if I set a good example or not, but I know quite a few land grant schools have an agricultural meteorologist so they must not of said they saw Iowa State make a mistake so we don’t make it as well. A good many schools now have the position that I have held since 1979 at Iowa State.”

Although Taylor was never required to teach classes at the university, he said there hasn’t been a year that has gone by that he didn’t teach.

“I have had a good many students that have gone to significant positions around the world – many resulting in agriculture that is affected by the weather,” he said. “I think that has been somewhat of a contribution because every farmer knows that weather is the big unknown when it comes to having a farm that is going to be productive and perhaps one to actually make a living on.”

Taylor has also presented to farmer groups over the years where he has had the opportunity to talk weather and how it affects their crops and in reality, their livelihood.

“I don’t know as I’ve been worth very much to farmers in telling them how this year is going to turn out, I never tell a farmer what they should do, because first, I wouldn’t want to do that because then I would be liable if I was wrong,” he said adding a chuckle that he is a weather person and they’re supposed to be wrong.

The drought of 1988 stands out as one of Taylor’s top weather events of his career.

“I got so I was waking up in the morning and I would look out my front window of my house and I would see television vans there waiting for a light to go on in the house to interview me,” he said. “When I counted, and saw I had been on the front of the Des Moines newspaper more than the governor, I said it was time to take a break.”

Taylor and his wife headed to the mountains of Colorado for a little R&R. Because it was an off time to travel to Colorado, the owner of the bed and breakfast they were staying at asked why they would come that time of year.

“My wife said, ‘he is trying to get away from all of the newspaper, radio and TV people at the door. That guy said ‘what?’ He didn’t believe it for a second. Sunday morning came and there we were sitting around and the newspaper got dropped off. He went out the door, picked up the paper that was a major Denver newspaper. He opened it up. Looked up at me and looked down. Laid the paper down and left the room. There inside was my picture.”

Taylor was sought after during that time, he said, because people really wanted to know how long the drought was expected to last and how did he know to warn people six months in advance.

“1987 and 1988 were very good example of yes, we can see these things developing and be ready for it,” he said. “People knew, especially my grandfather, my father and all of the other farmers that the biggest unknown in our farming operations is our weather. If somebody could help us understand what the weather is going to do, or what the chances of it happening would certainly be a help. I didn’t learn that until I was 12 years old, I never looked to the left or right. I decided that was what I was going to do.”

Taylor officially retired Jan. 2, 2019.

“And, no one noticed,” he said. “I kept working the schedule that has been exactly the same and that’s alright with me.”

Taylor said serving as ISU Extension’s meteorologist/climatologist has been a delightful vocation to be involved in.

“You do what you enjoy doing,” he said. “I love working with people especially if I actually have something that is worth working with. I know that the time will come that my students are going to contribute a lot more than I have ever been able to, to the affect of weather on agriculture and how to handle it and I won’t stand in their way.”

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