Skip to main content

Ferguson College of Agriculture

Open Main MenuClose Main Menu

Professor in Plant and Soil Sciences on Improving the Sustainability of Soil Fertility

Friday, December 8, 2023

Dr. Steve Phillips is an Oklahoma native. He attended Cameron University for his B.S. and Oklahoma State University for his M.S. and Ph.D. After completing his Ph.D., he joined the faculty at Virginia Tech as a soil fertility research and extension specialist. In 2007, he left academia and joined the International Plant Nutrition Institute as North American Director and spent the next 12 years leading applied research and educational programs around the world focused on improving the performance of diverse cropping systems through enhanced crop nutrition and precision agriculture technologies.


In 2019, Phillips moved to Morocco where he was the principal scientist for the African Plant Nutrition Institute leading research and extension activities in several African countries. Now, he is an associate professor here at OSU focusing on soil fertility and crop nutrition.


Phillips’s current research program at OSU is built around the theme of understanding spatially and temporally variable factors that affect yield potential and plant response to fertilizers.


“Our goal is to use this knowledge to develop more precise, site-specific fertilizer recommendations for growers. We work in several different cropping systems and regions around the state and conduct trials on both OSU experiment stations and in farmer fields,” he said. “We are fortunate at OSU to have several long-term wheat fertility trials to work with.”


A big part of his research program is summarizing and interpreting the long-term data to assess the sustainable relevance and integrity of these trials going forward. Phillips has several plans for the future of his teaching program, as he is currently redesigning 5813 – Nutrient Cycling, which he plans to offer in spring 2024, and also developing a new course on International Agriculture that will be offered in fall 2024. He is also working on plans for a new course in crop nutrition that will be ready to offer in fall 2025.


For Phillips’ research focus, he sees current fertilizer recommendations as accurate but not very precise.


“What this means is that, on average, across several fields, the recommended fertilizer rate at a given soil test level will be correct. However, in any single field, this rate might be off by several lb/A,” he said. “This error is due to spatially variable factors that exist at too fine of a resolution to account for during traditional fertilizer calibration research.”


This is why Phillips believes there is a need to understand what these factors are, how they are changing the way plants respond to fertilizer, and how to adjust the rate recommendation accordingly.


In his teaching appointment at OSU, Phillips enjoys working with students and believes there are not many things more satisfying than helping a motivated student achieve his or her goals.


“Each class is unique, and I enjoy getting to know the students in each one and learning how I can deliver the content in a way that is relevant to them,” he said.


Phillips doesn’t just apply this approach to the classroom, but he also applies it to growers, county educators, other scientists, and more.


“I always try to teach with learning objectives in mind because teaching without learning is just me talking and wasting people’s time,” he said.


Being from Oklahoma and an OSU alumnus, Phillips’ passion for what he does at OSU is more than just a job to him.


“I have a very personal interest in doing work that creates value for Oklahoma agriculture and raises the reputation of OSU,” he said.


He has spent many years of his career outside of Oklahoma and he feels that it is fantastic to be back home.


Phillips’s favorite part of working at OSU is an easy answer – the people.


“When I was with IPNI, I worked with land grant agronomy departments all over the USA, and what we have right now at OSU is special and I am very fortunate to be a part of it,” he said. “The support staff, faculty, and administration in Plant and Soil Sciences are outstanding. Our extension faculty in the department are some of the most talented people I’ve been around.”


Phillips knew many of the of department’s faculty before he joined the faculty at OSU, but after interacting with them more closely over the past few months—especially Dr. Arnall, Dr. Silva, Dr. Lofton, and Dr. Sharma—he has seen how they are exceptional at their jobs.


“We are also extremely fortunate to have Dr. Abit and Dr. Haggard leading our teaching efforts,” he said. “Their enthusiasm, commitment, and leadership by example is very motivating and sets a standard of excellence that all of us in the department should strive to meet.”


In his free time, Phillips enjoys running marathons.


“I run one or two marathons a year, and this spring will be my 20th anniversary since I last ran the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon,” he said.


Phillips plans to try to beat his time from 20 years ago. At the time, Phillips was new to the sport and just trying to figure out how to keep running for 26.2 miles.


“I’m hoping the experience will make up for the added years and extra pounds I’ve put on since 2004,” Phillips said.

Back To Top