Les E. Lanyon, 55, a professor of soil science and management at the Pennsylvania State University and a member of the Bay Program’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee, died May 26, 2004, of a blood clot while recovering from a recent surgery.
Lanyon was known for his work exploring nutrient inputs and exports for both individual farms and entire regions, as well as their impact on water quality, especially the Chesapeake.
That work led him to realize that nutrient-related water pollution problems on individual farms—and larger regions—result when far greater amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus are imported—either as animal feed or fertilizer—than is exported as meat, milk or even manure.
As a result, he concluded that most on-farm nutrient control practices are unlikely to offset the excess amounts of nutrients imported onto many animal agricultural operations, which inspired him to become an advocate that regions should strive to achieve an overall nutrient balance to reduce water pollution problems.
But Lanyon also contended that economic factors drove farmer decisions, and that society as a whole—which benefits from low food costs—should bear some of the burden of reducing agricultural water pollution.
That belief led him to help develop a pilot project that sold “Chesapeake Milk” in parts of the watershed. The specially labeled milk was sold at a 10 cent per gallon surcharge, which in turn was used to help participating farmers invest in runoff control practices.
The project showed that consumers were willing to pay more for the milk, and it successfully generated thousands of dollars for farm improvements, but it was hampered by distribution problems. “There is some altruism on the part of the farmers, there is some on the part of the consumers, but the food chain between the farmers and the consumers is much less altruistic,” Lanyon concluded.
He earned a bachelor of science degree in agronomy from Iowa State University in 1970 and later earned advanced degrees from Ohio State University, including a master of science degree in agronomy in 1975 and a doctorate in agronomy in 1977. He taught at Penn State since 1977 where he held teaching, research and extension responsibilities. In 1991, he was chosen as a Berg Fellow by the Soil and Water Conservation Society. He received the research award of the Northeast Branch of the American Society of Agronomy in 1999.
He was a member of the American Society of Agronomy and served on its board of directors, the Ecological Society of America, the Soil Science Society of America, the Soil and Water Conservation Society, the Pennsylvania Forage and Grassland Council, and the Pennsylvania Lime, Fertilizer and Pesticide Society.
Born Sept. 15, 1948, he married Roseann Clemente in 1971, who survives him.