After nearly 30 years as a professor and research scientist at Auburn University, Guertal retired from her post on June 1 to start a new position with Kansas State University. Guertal was named program director for the Center of Excellence on Mitigation, Adaptation, and Resilience to Climate-Change in Haiti, a multi-university effort led by KSU's Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab. Guertal is responsible for managing the center's day-to-day operations and serving as a leader in the national education, research and outreach community.
"It's the chance to do significant international work," Guertal said. "Turfgrass will still be involved, because in some places it is an excellent way for people to get training and move into significantly better work at resorts."
The Center is funded through a five-year, $12 million grant from the U.S. government focused on agriculture-led economic growth in Haiti. The Center of Excellence will work closely with a consortium of six universities in Haiti including Quisqueya University, the lead partner university, and Faculté d'Agronomie et de Médecine Vétérinaire in Port-au-Prince; Campus Henry Christophe de Limonade and North Christian University in Cap Haitien; and American University of the Caribbean and University Notre Dame in Les Cayes.
The goals of the Center are: increasing institutional and human capacity and social capital to better meet the demands of the agricultural economy and workforce needs; developing revenue-generating services to provide to the region; and establishing technology parks to showcase high-potential Climate Smart Agriculture technologies and strategies to sustainably intensify smallholder production systems.
The program's head, Guertal will be based in the U.S. in her garage office in Alabama, but the work takes her to Haiti and eventually other locations around the globe to improve conditions for people in the Caribbean country that shares an island with the Dominican Republic.
"It will be a lot of travel, working with projects around the world," she said.
"We will all be developing BS and MS degrees in various areas of agricultural science. And then also developing research and technology parks in the country."
Geurtal says after nearly 30 years in the turf industry, she will conduct some work in that field in her new job as it relates to efforts in Haiti and will continue to dabble in the U.S. professional turf industry.
That is a relief to many of her colleagues.
"Dr. Guertal has been my go to person for many years when it comes to questions on fertility and turf management," said Leah Brilman, Ph.D., director of turf products and technical services for DLF Pickseed and Seed Research of Oregon. "She has also studied carbon sequestration in relation to turfgrass management. She is instrumental in looking at claims for soil additives scientifically. Dr. Guertal is also excellent in explaining the soil systems in an approachable way making it easier for users to make good decisions."
Beth Guertal, Ph.D., (left) spent nearly 30 years at Auburn before accepting a post at Kansas State to improve conditions for the people of Haiti. Photo via Twitter Guertal's published research includes titles such as Decomposition, and carbon and nitrogen release from turfgrass, Carbon dioxide flux from bermudagrass turf as affected by nitrogen rate, Soil management, fertilization, and irrigation and Cost effectiveness of erosion control covers during vegetation establishment under simulated rainfall.
Throughout her career, Guertal has been a regular speaker at chapter and national GCSAA events as well as at Sports Field Management Association (formerly the STMA) conferences. She also has mastered the art of engaging audiences through distance learning and because of that she has been a regular presenter of TurfNet webinars.
As important as her work in research and education has been, Guertal has played an equally critical role in promoting the role of women in turf long before it became an industry trend.
"Beth, what a great person. Fondly known to me as Dr. Sugar, she has been a great mentor to myself and so many other people in our industry," said Sally Jones, general manager and superintendent at Benton Golf Club in Minnesota. "Beth is no nonsense, so you know you're getting her honest opinion. And when needed, she kindly states what needs to be said and moves on. Beth has a kind spirit that is welcoming and cheerful which has made her so approachable as a mentor and friend.
"She stands out as a predominant figure in our Women in Turf clan, which she has so rightly earned. Her tenure in our industry has made her a highly respected individual. She will be missed in her position at Auburn, but she has let us know that we haven't seen the last of her."
Guertal has been a regular fixture at the Syngenta's Ladies Leading Turf program and Bayer's Women in Golf conference in 2019 and was on the volunteer crew at the 2021 U.S. Open at Olympic in San Francisco. But the efforts to promote the role of women in the field started long before.
"Our original Women in Turf started with the few women in the professional side having a lunch or dinner during the Crop Science meetings to which we invited women graduate students," Brilman said. "We have become more organized and before the pandemic had a quite large group. Last year we had a meeting at Crop Science, in which women came and went from (other meetings) with a total of 25 to 30 women. We now have Women in Turf in the SFMA and GCSAA meeting, also. Women are welcome at all levels and we try to be available for questions."
While some of Guertal's work as it relates to Haiti will include some work in turf, she will still be an occasional fixture in the U.S. professional industry.
"I don't think I could ever fully leave the supportive and wonderful folks in turfgrass," she said.
Said Jones: "She's a high-quality educator. When attending her seminars, you almost always walk away with something new. And she has the best way to hold your interest in the topic at hand."
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