GAP Initiative Leadership

Leadership for the GAP Initiative is provided by the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, an external Leadership Council, and an internal advisory group of university leaders and faculty members.

Ann Steensland, M.A.

Lead, Global Agricultural Productivity (GAP) Initiative and GAP Report Author/Editor
Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Ann Steensland leads the GAP Report Initiative as part of the Global Programs office of the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. In this role, she serves as the lead author of the Global Agricultural Productivity Report, or GAP Report, an annual analysis of global progress toward productive sustainable food and agriculture systems.

Her research areas include sustainable approaches for increasing the productivity of small-scale agriculture, improving livelihoods and nutrition for small-scale farmers, market-based strategies for reducing post-harvest loss and waste, and connecting small-scale and emerging farmers to markets.

Prior to joining Virginia Tech, Ms. Steensland was the Deputy Director of the Global Harvest Initiative (GHI), a agribusiness trade association advocating for productivity and sustainability throughout the agricultural value chain. Ms. Steensland also served as Chief of Staff of the Alliance to End Hunger, a coalition of companies, universities, faith-based groups and NGOs building the public and political will to end hunger and malnutrition.

Ms. Steensland has an M.A. in African History. She was awarded the Lawrence Levine Prize for her thesis exploring racial, economic, and environmental dimensions of the development of commercial agriculture in South Africa.

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Tom Thompson, Ph.D.

Associate Dean and Director – Global Programs and Executive Editor of the GAP Report
Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Tom Thompson is Associate Dean and Director of Global Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Thompson earned a bachelor’s degree in agronomy from Abilene Christian University, a master’s degree in soil chemistry and fertility from Texas A&M, and a doctorate in soil chemistry from Iowa State University. As head of the Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences (2011-16), he led a department with 25 faculty members, 300 undergraduate and graduate students, and a research portfolio of more than $5 million per year. Prior to coming to Virginia Tech, Thompson was chairman of the Department of Plant and Soil Science at Texas Tech University from 2006 to 2011. He was professor and extension specialist at the University of Arizona from 1991 to 2006.

Dr. Thompson is an agronomist and soil scientist, and his career has been characterized by international engagement. In 2004 he spent a sabbatical leave in Israel and has had scientific collaborations with colleagues at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Ben-Gurion University, and Israel’s Agricultural Research Organization. His recent research and outreach have focused on the adoption of conservation agriculture practices and nutrient management in smallholder farming systems in Haiti, Senegal, and Southeast Asia. He has mentored graduate students from Africa, Asia, and Central and South America. Thompson has published more than 60 refereed journal articles and garnered more than $9.7 million in extramural funding.

Thompson is a Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy, the Soil Science Society of America, and the Food Systems Leadership Institute. He was associate and technical editor for the Soil Science Society of America Journal for more than a decade.

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Ben Grove, M.B.A.

Associate Director – Global Programs
Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Virginia Cooperative Extension

Ben Grove is Associate Director for Global Programs for the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE). In this role, he builds internal and external partnerships to support global engagement, as well as provides leadership to faculty and student mobility programs and VCE’s international strategy. Grove leads resource development efforts for the GAP Initiative.

Grove was previously a member of the CALS advancement team for 10 years. His responsibilities included leading and developing volunteer boards and designing and executing major gift, annual fund, and local endowment fundraising strategies to support CALS and Extension programs, activities, and positions. His portfolio included the Virginia 4-H Foundation and focusing on creating a culture of philanthropy to benefit local and statewide VCE programming. Prior to Virginia Tech, he spent five years in quality assurance and sales roles in the meat and poultry industry in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and in Atlanta.

Grove was a member of the inaugural class of Virginia Agricultural Leaders Obtaining Results (VALOR) and served on the Pamplin MBA Advisory Board. His professional experience in CALS Global includes partnerships and programs in West and East Africa, South America, Central America, Europe, and Oceania.

Grove earned a bachelor’s degree in animal and poultry sciences and a master’s degree in business administration, both from Virginia Tech. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in planning, governance, and globalization in Virginia Tech’s School of Public and International Affairs. His research area is internationalizing the U.S. Cooperative Extension System.

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Erica Corder

Communications Consultant
GAP Report

Erica Corder is a multimedia storyteller and communications consultant for the GAP Report.

A graduate of Virginia Tech, Erica has worked in communications roles across the university, including for the University Libraries, the Office of Economic Development, the Honors College, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and, most recently, the College of Engineering, where she served as communications manager for two years.

Erica is currently based in Los Angeles, where she pursues storytelling as a communications strategist, writer, photographer, cinematographer, drone pilot, and documentary producer.

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Tashi Gyatso

Research Intern
GAP Report

Tashi Gyatso is a Research Intern for the GAP Report.

Tashi is an undergraduate student at Virginia Tech majoring in Crop and Soil Sciences with a minor in Global Food Security and Health. He is passionate about the intersection between sustainability and international agriculture, and is excited to be working alongside the GAP Report team.

Contact Tashi

Leadership Council

The GAP Initiative Leadership Council provides strategic advice for the direction of the report and related activities. It also provides ideas and support for fundraising activities and communications outreach.

Alan Grant, Ph.D.

Dean, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Virginia Tech

Alan L. Grant became the dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University) in October 2009. The College, through its research, teaching, and extension missions, has the goal to serve the people of the Commonwealth and beyond by enhancing the vitality and sustainability of agriculture, revitalizing rural families and communities, improving human and animal health and nutrition, and enhancing the quality of our environment.

Prior to joining Virginia Tech, Dr. Grant served eight years (2001-2009) as the head of the Department of Animal Sciences at Purdue University and 19 years (1990-2009) on the Purdue faculty, where he developed programs in research and teaching, and was involved in various extension and outreach programs and activities. He also served as the chair of the animal sciences graduate program at Purdue from 1999 to 2001. Dr. Grant’s past research on animal growth has focused on strategies for increasing the efficiency of lean meat production and utilization. His discovery efforts have also been directed at understanding the relationship
between muscle development and meat quality, and have encompassed collaborative partnerships and student involvement. Dr. Grant was recognized as a University Faculty Scholar at Purdue University for his achievements in teaching and research. Grant is an advocate of multi-state activities to support land-grant missions, having served in various roles with groups such as the U.S. Pork Center of Excellence.

He completed his B.S. degree in animal science at Cornell University, and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in animal science at Michigan State University prior to joining the Purdue faculty.

Jennifer Billings

Global Agriculture Development Leader, Corteva Agriscience™

Jennifer Billings leads a global portfolio at Corteva Agriscience™ to enrich the lives of smallholder farmers and their communities. Through farmer customers, innovative technologies, and partnerships with key stakeholders such as USAID, FAO, Land O’Lakes, John Deere, local governments, and NGOs, Corteva will increase the productivity, incomes, and sustainable farming practices of 500 million smallholder farmers by 2030.

Prior to joining Corteva, Mrs. Billings served as the Senior Agriculture Advisor in the USAID Latin America and Caribbean Bureau, where she led inter-agency coordination and stakeholder engagement on the Feed the Future initiative and other agriculture programs in the region. Prior to her position with USAID in Washington, Mrs. Billings lived overseas for 10 years in Nepal, Jerusalem and Afghanistan working on U.S. government programs to advance international development and foreign policy goals. Mrs. Billings has an MSc in Agribusiness and is a U.S. Army veteran.

Mr. Stewart T. Leeth

Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and Chief Sustainability Officer, Smithfield Foods, Inc.

Stewart Leeth serves as Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and Chief Sustainability Officer for Smithfield Foods, Inc. He leads company-wide regulatory initiatives and directs the company’s sustainability program. This program focuses on animal welfare, employee relations, environmental stewardship, food safety and quality, and community development. He is also responsible for legal affairs for Smithfield’s hog production division and serves as Vice President of the Smithfield Foundation.

Mr. Leeth joined Smithfield Foods in 2008 and has worked in several capacities for the company. Prior to joining Smithfield Foods, he was a partner at the Virginia law firm of McGuire Woods and before that, served as Assistant Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Virginia, representing a variety of state agencies.  He also served as a law clerk to Judge Claude Hilton of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Mr. Leeth is a graduate of the University of Richmond School of Law and earned a bachelor of arts degree in international studies from the University of Richmond.

Mr. Benjamin J. Pratt

Senior Vice President, Government and Public Affairs, The Mosaic Company

Ben Pratt is Senior Vice President, Government and Public Affairs at The Mosaic Company, the world’s largest producer of phosphate and potash fertilizers. Ben leads internal, executive, investor, media and crisis communications, as well as the company’s community investment activities and its sustainability reporting.

Prior to joining Mosaic in February 2012, Mr. Pratt was Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications at Ameriprise Financial, Inc., in Minneapolis.

Earlier in his career, Ben worked in a variety of communications and investor relations capacities at The PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh, and at Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, both in New York. A graduate of Duke University, Ben lives in Tampa, Florida, with his wife and two children.

Ms. Christi Dixon

Agriculture Education and Advocacy Manager, Bayer Crop Science

Christi connects with farmers around the world to communicate to key societal audiences – specifically in the areas of modern agriculture practices and technology access. Using a variety of communication channels, industry relationships and personal connections, is passionate about shifting the narrative about food and farming.

Mr. Aaron Wetzel

Vice President, Production Systems Small Ag & Turf, Deere & Company

Aaron L. Wetzel is Vice President, Production Systems Small Ag &Turf, Deere & Company.

Aaron L. Wetzel is Vice President, Small Ag & Turf Production Systems, a position he has held since June 2020. In this role, Aaron leads the end to end process of developing Deere’s next generation of product and technology solutions that meet specific customer and market needs.

Prior to his current role, Wetzel was the Senior Vice President, Global Sales & Marketing at John Deere Financial. Wetzel had global responsibility for leading the John Deere Financial marketing and sales functions. In addition, he managed lending operations for Latin America, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and guided John Deere Financial’s strategy and operating platform organizations to a new agile operating model.

He also served as Vice President, A&T Global Platform, Crop Care, for the Agriculture & Turf Division, a position he has held since September 2012. He is responsible for the design, manufacture, and sourcing of the crop care platform of products for Deere’s global agriculture and turf equipment operations.

Mr. Wetzel joined the company in 1988 as a summer student in accounting and began full-time in 1990 as an auditor. Wetzel’s previous assignments include Group Product Manager- Utility Vehicles and North American Sales manager for Golf & Turf with the Commercial & Consumer Equipment Division (C&CE).

In 2005, Mr. Wetzel served as Director, Region II C&CE Sales based at the European office in Mannheim. In 2006, he was Director, Strategic Planning and Customer Focus for Europe, Africa and the Middle East for the Agricultural Division. He was named Vice President, Marketing, Sales and Planning in South America for the Agricultural Division in April 2007. He was named Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Latin America, Agriculture and Turf Division in May 2009.

Mr. Wetzel received his bachelor’s degree in accountancy from Augustana College and his master’s degree in business administration from Duke University.

VIRGINIA TECH GAP INITIATIVE ADVISORY GROUP

The Virginia Tech GAP Initiative Advisory Group made up of university leaders and faculty members with expertise in agricultural economics, agronomy, animal science, extension services, international development, and natural resource conservation. They provide direction and content for the report, and review GAP Report themes, outlines, and drafts.

Special Advisors

Brady Deaton

Chancellor Emeritus, University of Missouri and former Associate Director of the Office of International Development, Virginia Tech


Guru Ghosh

Vice President, Outreach and International Affairs, Virginia Tech


Alan Grant

Dean, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Ed Jones

Associate Dean and Director of Virginia Cooperative Extension


Matt Hulver

Executive Director, Fralin Life Sciences Institute


Wade Thomason

Professor and Associate Director, School of Plant and Environmental Sciences


Jason Grant

Associate Professor and Director, Center for Agricultural Trade


Kim Niewolny

Associate Professor, Agricultural, Leadership, and Community Education

Center for International Research and Development (CIRED)

Muni Muniappan

Director, USAID Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Innovation Lab


Maria Elisa Christie

Director, Women and Gender in Agricultural Development

College of Natural Resources and Environment

Keith Goyne

Professor and Associate Dean, Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation

Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine

Kathy Hosig

Associate Professor and Director, Center for Public Health Practice and Research


Valerie Ragan

Associate Professor and Director, Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine

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