It’s not every day that a high school student from Victoria, Australia, winds up in small-town Wyoming.
But that didn’t faze Craig Alford, who first arrived in the state as part of an exchange program organized by the Torrington Rotary Club.
The abrupt transition from summer in Australia to winter in Wyoming was a bit jarring, but he took it in stride. Growing up on a farm where his family ran beef cattle, he felt at home in the agricultural setting and settled in quickly.
In fact, after returning to Australia for a few months, Alford headed right back to Torrington to attend Eastern Wyoming College. He later earned his undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees at the University of Wyoming.
Today, Alford is a global biology leader for rice, specialty, and pasture and land management herbicides at Corteva Agriscience. In other words, he’s a weed science whiz who works with specialists around the world to identify and address weed control issues.
Throughout his career, Alford has helped develop and launch critical herbicide solutions in Wyoming as well as nationally and internationally. He continues to work with Wyoming researchers, including those involved in the Institute for Managing Annual Grasses Invading Natural Ecosystems (IMAGINE) project, to develop methods for combating noxious invasives.
Alford is also a recipient of the 2022 UW College of Agriculture, Life Sciences and Natural Resources Outstanding Alumni Award. He and other awardees will be recognized during Ag Appreciation weekend, which begins September 29.
Marketing, management, and more
“I love what I do, and I’ve done a lot of different things,” Alford reflects.
The curiosity, open-mindedness, and appetite for adventure that led an Australian teenager to attend school in another hemisphere has served Alford well throughout his career. He advises students and younger team members to “try some different things. Get uncomfortable.”
From weed science to marketing and management at one of the largest agricultural chemical and seed corporations in the world, Alford has consistently embraced new opportunities.
As an undergraduate, he majored in agroecology, then pursued a master’s degree in plant science. He took a job with Pioneer in western Illinois, working on corn hybrid development.
Upon earning his Ph.D. at UW, Alford moved into a field scientist position with DuPont Crop Protection in Lincoln, Nebraska. He has been with the company, now part of Corteva Agriscience, for nearly two decades, trading the field position for a marketing role and then entering management.
His current position on the Global Crop Protection Discovery and Development team involves “taking feedback and input from different regions and different people and bringing that back into our discovery and research organization,” he explains.
It’s about understanding what the challenges are, what different managers around the world are dealing with, and figuring out what solutions already exist or could be developed.
The role requires constant coordination with colleagues around the world, from Vietnam to Brazil, Italy, and many other countries. “You never know exactly what’s going to come up, what you’re going to work on. There’s a lot of diversity in what I do and that makes it fun,” he shares.
Throughout his career, Alford has taken an active role in professional organizations, including the Western Society of Weed Science and North Central Weed Science Society, and has gone out of his way to mentor students, recent graduates, and new team members.
He was also instrumental in establishing a more streamlined and cost-effective process for creating research agreements with UW and other universities.
“He has done all of this in his own genuine, friendly way with the highest level of integrity and character,” write his nominators.
Weed control around the world
Even as a high school student, Alford recognized that some patterns, especially in agriculture, transcend geographic regions.
This theme has continued to guide his career path, first while working in a variety of western and midwestern U.S. states in the “Cornbelt” and, more recently, across continents.
“Weed control in pastures is a challenge whether you’re in Wyoming or Brazil,” he says. “The weeds that you run into are different from one part of world or country to another, but it’s still trying to find something there to help manage that.”
Invasive grasses are an age-old crop protection problem, he notes. When the crop and the weed are similar types of plant, control becomes extremely challenging. “It’s easy to manage grass weeds in a broadleaf crop or vice versa but when you put grass weeds in a grass crop or broadleaf weeds in a broadleaf crop, that’s a challenge because the crops are so similar.”
Many Wyoming producers encounter the issue in pasture settings. In other parts of the world, the problem manifests as barnyard grass choking out rice crops. Either way, Alford’s steady leadership, technical skills, and ability to connect with others continue to help propel the research and development process forward.
A Corteva colleague comments that Alford is a “bridge-builder, a solver, a confidant, a strong and forward moving leader who others immediately gravitate towards.”
Over the years, one of the most important lessons Alford has learned is that success is about people as well as plants.
He’s always enjoyed working closely with growers, land managers, cattle ranchers, and others who work the land directly, “having that one-on-one with them to try to help find solutions for the problems they have.”
In his seven years as a marketing professional, Alford gained an understanding of the complex set of factors that determine whether a new herbicide or weed control strategy will prove successful.
“You can maybe come up with the solution,” he says, “but then, is that economically viable for land managers to use? You could have the greatest thing ever to use but if we can’t afford to make it and sell it and land managers can’t afford to buy it—then it doesn’t work.”
In his current position on an international team, Alford has also grown to appreciate just how impactful a viable solution can be. In some areas of the world, increased crop yields due to a new pest management system may enable families to sell more grain so that they can send their children to school rather than just struggling to survive.
Whether in Wyoming or Southeast Asia, Alford is committed to finding solutions. When he speaks of “big challenges,” it is not with resignation or pessimism—merely recognition that progress will require patience, innovation, and lots of meticulous experimentation.