In Remembrance of Dr. Russell Brinsfield

The entire Hughes Center staff and Board of Directors are deeply saddened by the loss of Dr. Russell B. Brinsfield. Along with Governor Harry R. Hughes, Dr. Brinsfield (Russ) co-founded the Maryland Center for Agro-Ecology, later renamed in honor of Governor Hughes.

Russ was a man of compassion, wisdom and foresight, who achieved much in his life. He was a loving father and husband. He was a leader in agricultural science at the University of Maryland and the Harry R. Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology. He was a nationally recognized scientist and scholar who performed critical work on agriculture’s impact on the environment. To the agricultural and environmental communities, he was a pillar of knowledge and a voice that encouraged collaboration and solutions based on facts. He was also a friend, farmer, scientific advisor, mentor and the mayor of his native Vienna, Md., for two decades.

Russ’ list of accomplishments throughout his life and career is extraordinary. He received his degrees from the University of Maryland and spent his career there. In 1982, he was chosen to lead the University of Maryland’s new Wye Research and Education Center, an agricultural experiment station, where he implemented a nationally recognized research program that assesses the impacts of agricultural management practices on water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.

"Russ was dedicated to the research mission of the Wye Research and Education Center.  Under his 34-year leadership, the Wye grew to be the flagship Center of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He was well respected by faculty and staff and will be greatly missed,” said Barbara South, a longtime co-worker at the Wye and friend of Russ.

“Russ was a superb leader for the town of Vienna, the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, University of Maryland and the Hughes Center, always understanding, always thoughtful in his words and actions, always a great supporter and friend. Russ left an indelible mark on the Eastern Shore, the University of Maryland, the Bay program and all who encountered him. It was a privilege to work with Russ,” said Ed Fry, a Kent County dairy farmer and Hughes Center Vice President of the Board of Directors.

While at the Wye Research and Education Center, working alongside colleague Dr. Ken Staver, the two developed a cover crop research program that in 1997 led to Maryland providing cost-share money to farmers to encourage winter cover crop plantings, reducing nitrogen losses to groundwater and the Chesapeake Bay and improving water quality. Maryland’s cover crop program remains extremely popular and successful and is nationally recognized for its efficiency in reducing agricultural nutrient losses. Today, Maryland leads the nation in percentage of agricultural land planted to cover crops. Without Russ’ research and strong advocacy of the cover crop mediated nutrient reductions to the Bay, and promotion of cover crops support to our policymakers in Annapolis, Maryland would not be as far in the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay as we are today.

Dr. Sarah Taylor-Rogers, who in addition to serving as the secretary of the Department of Natural Resources from 1999-2001 served as interim director after Russ retired, said that “he left a permanent mark on the landscape of Maryland through the cover crop program, which continues today and is becoming more applicable and effective through continued research -- but Russ laid the base for the program.”

"It took a decade, but Russ never gave up and was the prime mover of the cover crop science through the political maze to make Maryland a national leader,” Dr. Staver said.

In 1999, Russ became the founding director of the Maryland Center for Agro-Ecology, which emerged to promote cooperative approaches for preserving Maryland’s farms, forests and environment. Under his leadership, the Center’s work encouraged innovative policy initiatives at the state and federal levels that protect and enhance the profitability of Maryland’s working lands while protecting the health of the Chesapeake Bay. 

“Russ Brinsfield’s leadership of the Hughes Center for Agro-Ecology was the capstone of a long and distinguished career. All of us who care about agriculture and the environment are grateful for his work,” said Fran Flanigan, a former Hughes Center board member who also led the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay for more than 20 years.

He served as executive director of the Hughes Center and the Wye Research and Education Center until his retirement in 2015.

“Our first contact was in 1974 via a phone call by him to me asking for money for the town of Vienna to develop its shorefront. We worked together to do just that. And when Pfiesteria hit several tributaries on the Eastern Shore, Russ answered a phone call by me asking if the Department of Natural Resources could stage their boats and scientists at that very shorefront area. He worked with the Department to do just that. Our last contact professionally was when he retired from the Wye Research and Education Center. I found him to be a scientist of integrity and one who fully supported agricultural projects and programs no matter where in the state,” Dr. Taylor-Rogers said.

Russ’ beliefs that seemingly opposing parties can collaborate and discover viable solutions to their issues is part of the fabric of the Hughes Center’s mission. Russ left Maryland’s farms and our environment a better place, and we all will try to do the same in his memory.

"What made working with Russ so special was his deep commitment to making things better.  You quickly found out that Russ was driven by his love for family, Maryland agriculture, and the Eastern Shore landscapes including the Chesapeake Bay. He was always thinking about problem-solving with a long-term vision of leaving things better off for future generations,” Dr. Staver said. 

“Russ understood that you had to get the science sorted out first and he was always looking for ways to bring in resources to help move the science forward. But he also understood the people part and how important it was to communicate with both the policy folks and politicians as well as the farmers to get solutions out on the ground. He had the passion, the grasp of science, and the communication skills to really get things done,” Dr. Staver said.