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Our Illinois 4-H Story

Mission: Feeding a Growing Population

When your survival depends on feeding a growing world population, who better to call than a 4-H alum who has spent his professional career working to maximize crop outputs on every acre. Sam Eathington's connection to agriculture started young growing up on a grain and livestock farm in west-central Illinois.

"4-H gave me an opportunity to learn more about the science behind the farm," Sam said. "Although I grew up on farm, exposure to new people and elements of agriculture fostered a passion that I still apply in my work today."

Sam is Chief Scientist at The Climate Corporation, a subsidiary of Monsanto, where he leads the company's research and development efforts in data science, measurements, and field research. Previously, he worked at Monsanto for nearly 20 years. He led Monsanto's Global Plant Breeding team, overseeing one of the largest and most integrated plant genetics programs in the world, comprised of nearly 2,000 people with plant breeding and testing locations in more than 35 countries.

He has contributed to agricultural development through a number of significant activities, including authoring more than 58 publications and patent applications relating to technical advances in agricultural technology.

"Record keeping was part of the 4-H process," Sam said. "It provided knowledge about farming operations and return on investment, something our scientific research is focused on making easier and more insightful for farmers.

"Ag has come full circle, and what we did by hand is now being digitized and brought to life like never before," Sam said.

Sam received his bachelors of science, masters of science, and Ph.D. focused on genetics and application of molecular markers in plant breeding, from the Department of Crop Sciences at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

"Participating in 4-H projects and leading groups helped develop my leadership skills at a young age, and gave me confidence to pursue a career in science and agriculture."

Sam was in attendance for the announcement of a $1.5 million grant from Google to benefit science and technology efforts of 4-H members across the country. The event sparked lots of memories for the Fulton County 4-H member who took a diverse list of projects from beef and crops to photography, woodworking, small engines, and, wait for it, tropical fish!

Perhaps it was prophetic of his future work that Sam was the state's Extra Yield Contest winner in 1984. The third of four sons in the family, Sam was a member of the Avondale 4-H Club where his parents, Gary and Cathy, served as leaders for 40 years. The Fulton County 4-H tradition continues today with Sam's nephew and three nieces.

"4-H is good at making you think about the bigger picture," Sam said, "and helped me develop my philosophy and practice of keeping records and thinking about ROI."

The public speaking skills learned in 4-H help him daily, Sam said. "I tell scientists all the time that they can be great scientists, but if they can't communicate about their work, then they are severely limiting their success and ability to make change in the world."


Judy Mae Bingman, University of Illinois Extension Marketing and Communications Manager

Judy uses powerful words and photography to tell the Extension story. She is a skilled communication strategist and storyteller with demonstrated success in building teams and creating strong organizational brand identities that deepen Extension’s impact among key audiences, build brand loyalty, strengthen employee talent, and expand public engagement. She is a frequent conference presenter at the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents Conference and helps Extension staff across the nation tell compelling stories.