Former head of soil science has died

Benno Warkentin

Former head of the Oregon State University Department of Soil Science Benno Warkentin has died. He was 83.

Warkentin came to OSU in 1978 from McGill University in Quebec. His early research focused on soils developed in volcanic parent materials. He studied their nutrient properties, and how that related to agricultural use. After coming to OSU, he remained head of the department until 1989, when he became director of the OSU Water Research Institute. He retired four years later but remained active, teaching an honors class for a number of years, helping graduate students as a thesis reviewer, and writing about soils and their interactions with humans over the millennia. He is editor of the 2006 Elsevier Press book titled Footprints in Soil – People and Ideas in Soil History.

Warkentin’s course in water resource science attracted large numbers of students, and he continued to be involved in the changing face of soil science, telling an interviewer in 2002, “I’ve become interested in where our ideas in soil science come from. Soil science has shifted in the past 20 years from crop production to environmental quality, watershed and soil health.”

In 2007, Warkentin wrote a history of the soil science department, and included a glimpse into the future of the discipline. He focused on sustainability, and on effectively transmitting what was known about soils to broader society.

“Can we ensure that soil science as a discipline is not lost in the coming competition of responses to society’s needs?” he wrote.

Warkentin received a BS in Soil Science from the University of British Columbia, his MS at Washington State University in soil fertility and his PhD from Cornell in Soil Physics.  He held professorial and Department Chair positions at McGill University from 1957 to 1978.

Over his career, he served as a member, chair or elected officer of more than 40 committees, boards, panels or organizations including the presidencies of the Canadian Society of Soil Science and Oregon Chapter of the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA); vice-chair two times of the International Society of Soil Science; member and chair of the Soil Science Society of America Budget and Finance Committee; Editor of the Canadian Journal of Soil Science and Associate Editor for the Soil Science Society of America Journal.  He also served on numerous panels and boards in Oregon.

Memorial service details are pending.

An OSU Foundation endowment fund is being established in Warkentin’s name to support teaching activities in Soil Science at OSU.  Those interested in contributing to this fund may do so by writing a check to the OSU Foundation. Write “Soil Science Unrestricted Fund – Warkentin account” in the memo line of your check and send it to OSU Foundation, 850 SW 35th St., Corvallis, Oregon 97333.  Alternatively, donors may go the Foundation online contribution site at   In the box titled “Direct my gift to the fund I’ve typed” type “Soil Science Unrestricted Fund – Warkentin account” and follow remaining online donation instructions.



One Response to “Former head of soil science has died”

  1. John Selker says:

    Benno was a gentle leader, who helped many of us in countless ways. He used his leadership to build a network of relationships that immeasurably strengthen the human fabric at OSU and around the world. He will be greatly missed by many of us, but the example he provided will live on for generations as the ripples of his efforts spread and inspire.