Our Team

Our Team

Our Drought Advisors team is a network of individual experts from our partnering organizations. A wide range of professional backgrounds, along with the dedication and passion for improving drought preparation and response, is what makes our work possible.

Todd Ballard

Agronomy & Weed Science Specialist, CSU Extension

Delta, CO

Todd Ballard has worked for CSU Extension for three years. He started in the Golden Plains Area. Then transferred to his current position the Tri-River Area. He has experience working in commercial agriculture prior to moving into academia. Todd earned his B.A. in Mathematics and M.S. in agriculture from Western Kentucky University. His Ph.D. in agronomy was completed at Kansas State University. More recently he finished a graduate certificate in extension education from CSU.

Kristi Bartolo

Agronomy Specialist, CSU Extension in Pueblo County

Pueblo, CO

Kristi Bartolo is the Agronomy Specialist with CSU Extension in Pueblo County, helping farmers with crop related issues from pests and disease to labor and markets and has conducted in-field trials. Kristi earned an MS/BS in biology from Colorado State University Pueblo in 2017. She was born and raised in Pueblo, CO and continues farming on the family property there. Aside from farming she enjoys many outdoor activities and spending time with family and her faith community.

Jenny Beiermann

Regional Specialist in Ag Business Management, CSU Extension

Grand Junction, CO

Jenny is originally from Big Piney, Wyoming where she grew up helping run her family's large scale cow-calf operation and veterinary practice. After receiving her B.S. and M.S. in Agricultural and Applied economics at the University of Wyoming, she joined CSU Extension in 2016 as the agriculture and business management specialist for the western slope of Colorado. Her primary role with CSU is to develop, market, deliver, and evaluate non-credit educational programming and resources relative to risk and risk management for agricultural producers and managers in operations of all sizes. These programs’ main goal is to assist producers in making comparative, profitable decisions among strategic financial, production, marketing, legal, and human resources alternatives.

Phil Brink

Conservation Scientist and Owner at Brink, Inc.

Erie, CO

Philip Brink is a conservation scientist and owner of Brink, Inc. which provides compliance assistance to animal feeding operations and soil and water conservation assistance to the agriculture industry. He also serves as the Consulting Coordinator of Colorado Cattlemen's Association's Ag Water NetWORK, which works through outreach and technical assistance to "keep ag water connected with ag land."

Phil's post-graduate work in industry began as a Hydrologist for the Kansas Division of Water Resources. He also led investigations of soil and groundwater contamination, conducted water quality studies and analyzed surface and groundwater data for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Since 2002, Brink, Inc. has provided conservation and compliance services to the USDA-NRCS, State of Colorado, Ute Indian Tribe, individual counties, and over one hundred animal feeding operations. Phil has also led and co-led special studies for the Colorado State Conservation Board, Colorado State University and agricultural associations. Phil holds a master's degree in environmental science with a water and hydrology emphasis. He is an Environmental Professional certified through the National Academy of Board Certified Environmental Professionals, and an NRCS Technical Service Provider. Brink, Inc. is based in Erie, Colorado.

A.J. Brown

Data Specialist & Agronomist for the Colorado State University (CSU) Agriculture Water Quality Program

Fort Collins, Colorado

A.J. Brown is the Data Specialist & Agronomist for the Colorado State University (CSU) Agriculture Water Quality Program. He grew up on a small alfalfa farm and worked at a local CSU research farm in Rocky Ford, Colorado, where he learned the importance of agricultural research and outreach. A.J. uses his experience with statistics, low-cost sensor development, modeling, and agronomy to monitor and protect the agricultural waters of Colorado. He received his M.Sc. degree in soil and crop science at CSU in 2021, with a project focusing on irrigation and soil salinity management in the CO Arkansas valley and the Indus River Valley in Sindh, Pakistan. He has extensive experience with using environmental data collected from commercial, or self-developed sensors to answer larger questions about a given environment. He also has expertise in using coding languages like python or R to apply advanced statistical methods to gain the most insight per data point. Outside of his research, A.J. enjoys gardening, playing piano, and spending time with his wife at local breweries.

Retta Bruegger

Regional Specialist in Range Management, CSU Extension

Grand Junction, CO

Retta Bruegger is the regional specialist in range management for CSU Extension in Western Colorado, and one of the founding members of Drought Advisors. Prior to working for CSU Extension, she worked for CSU’s Forest and Rangeland Stewardship Department in western Colorado, and in Mongolia on researching community-based adaptation to climate change. She received a MS in Rangeland Ecology and Management from the University of Arizona in 2012, and a BA from Colorado College in 2005. She is originally from the Roaring Fork Valley in the central mountains of Colorado. Since 2018, she has organized and spoken at drought workshops, reaching over 2,500 people.

Julie Elliott

Rangeland Management Specialist (retired), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)

Holyoke, CO

Julie Elliott grew up in central Eastern Colorado NW of Limon. She has always loved the outdoors and spent many hours on horseback exploring the hills of the Palmer Divide/Breaks area. She was active in the Ellis Hall Natural Resources Club, Wildlife Society and Range Club student organizations at CSU and graduated with a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and Minor in Range Ecology. She joined the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) in 1991 (now the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)) as a Range Management Specialist in Eastern Colorado. Organizing workshops for ranchers and farmers is her niche and she has hosted over 4600 people in her 30 year career. Julie continues to be involved with Drought Advisors since her retirement in January 2023. She is passionate about agriculture and rangelands in particular along with the people who are entrusted with them.

Greg Felsen

CSU Extension

Montezuma County

Greg’s work focuses on food systems, community and economic development, and capacity building in drought advisors. Greg collaborates with Drought Advisor because he believes farmers and ranchers can lead our communities in finding solutions to the impacts of drought. Lately, his work has been focused on educational programs identifying native plants, gardening and inclusive community engagement. Personally, he enjoys simple living, gardening, and the great outdoors.

Nora Flynn

Senior Agricultural Water Specialist, Colorado Water Conservation Board

Nora is the Senior Agriculture Water Specialist at the Colorado Water Conservation Board where she works on a variety of projects and strategies for increasing the drought resilience of agriculture and Colorado. She holds a Ph.D. in Soil and Crop Science from Colorado State University, with specialization in deficit irrigation of row crops and soil health. When she’s not on the road visiting farms and ranches she can be found at home in Fort Collins, Colorado enjoying the local biking and hiking trails.

Lyndsay Gonzalez

Small Acreage Management Coordinator, Boulder County

Longmont, CO

Lyndsay is the Small Acreage Management Coordinator for Boulder County. Lyndsay grew up on a dryland ranch near Ignacio, CO. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Soil and Crop Science from CSU, she moved to Lexington, KY to work as an equine vet tech. While in Kentucky, she started her career in extension as the Master Grazer Program Coordinator for the University of Kentucky. Lyndsay returned to CSU to complete a master’s degree in the Soil and Crop Science department focusing on forage production and ruminant nutrition. Her research project looked at the effect of deficit irrigation on alfalfa and grass hay crops across the western slope. Before joining the CSU extension team, she worked with organic and grassfed dairy farms for 8 years doing dairy cattle nutrition, feed procurement, pasture management, and forage production. Lyndsay enjoys spending time with her family, doing outdoor activities, and working with plants and animals.

Beth Hayes

Agricultural and Natural Resource Coordinator, Pueblo County CSU Extension

Pueblo, CO

Beth Hayes is the current Agricultural and Natural Resource Coordinator for Pueblo County Colorado State University Extension office. She has been with the Pueblo County Extension office for the past four years and is a Pueblo native. She has four undergraduate degrees from Colorado State University in fields such as equine sciences, soil & crops, agriculture literacy and agriculture education. She then also received a Master of Agriculture with a focus in Integrated Resource Management along with a teaching in Extension Education certificate from Colorado State University. To pair with her educational background, Beth also has many years of professional experience working in the agriculture industry for farms, ranches, feedlots and veterinary clinics. She’s also spent time working for the USDA as a certified wheat seed program assistant. Beth loves to share her passion for agriculture with her hometown community through her job and loves the new adventures each day brings being an Extension agent.

Tori Kauffman

Program Manager for Drought Advisors

Fort Collins, CO

Tori Kauffman began her career in the food service industry, where six years of working in kitchens with small teams taught her a love of serving and connecting with people. In 2021, she received her masters degree in Sustainable Food Systems from the University of Colorado in Boulder. During her graduate work, Tori discovered a love for engaging with and learning from agricultural producers. She loves hearing peoples’ stories and learning from the expertise and experience of others, and she is passionate about connecting individuals with varying backgrounds and beliefs over common values to effectively face shared challenges.

Tori also holds a B.S. in Behavioral Neuroscience from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA. Although she has never worked full-time in agricultural production, she is a working member for a local organic vegetable farm in her hometown of Fort Collins, CO, and she is hoping to try her hand at backyard gardening next season!

Emily Lockard

Director, CSU Extension in Montezuma County

Cortez, Colorado

Emily Lockard is the agriculture livestock extension agent for CSU Extension in Montezuma County and she is an instructor at Pueblo Community College – Southwest where she has taught animal science and ag business. She previously worked as a research associate at the Southwestern Colorado Research Center and as an agriculture extension agent in Pueblo, Colorado and Bozeman, Montana. She grew up in San Diego where she rode horses, swam in the ocean and participated in 4-H. It was visiting her grandparents farm in Viola, Idaho as a child that inspired her love of livestock and agriculture. She followed that passion to attend Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo for a B.S. in animal science and then studied livestock grazing behavior for her M.S. in range science at Utah State University.

Bonface Manono

Small Acreage Management Specialist- Mountain Region, CSU Extension

Canon City, CO

Bonface was raised in a small-scale farming family in Kenya that depended on agriculture for its food. This gave him an opportunity to taste home grown food at an early age and an interest in agricultural production. His PhD project focused on pasture irrigation and effluent (cow dung mixed with water) spreading in the Canterbury region and organic farming in New Zealand’s North Island dairy farms from the University of Otago, New Zealand. He also has a master's degree in Waste Management with Environmental Management from the University of the West of Scotland, United Kingdom. As a regional specialist, Bonface’s role is to share research-based knowledge with landowners and land managers to enable them to solve immediate natural resource issues while increasing their land’s viability, sustainability, and resilience. His interest is in soil-plant-water-environment interactions, and he is collaborating with Drought Advisors to help develop effective drought management options for landowners.

Karla Melgar Velis

Small Acreage Management Specialist- Front Range Region, CSU Extension

Longmont, CO

Karla is the current Small Acreage Management Specialist for the Front Range Region, working with CSU Extension and NRCS. She aims to bring resource conservation solutions to landowners, while helping them achieve their management and production goals with their land. Originally from El Salvador, and with a bachelor’s degree in Environment and Development Engineering from Zamorano University in Honduras, Karla is very familiar with the challenges of limited water resources for growing food. Karla obtained a Master’s degree in Mechanized Systems Management from University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she researched soil health and manure management on crop fields. Additionally, while living in Nebraska she gained experience in nutrient management in feedlots. Outside of work, Karla enjoys spending time exploring trails with her two dogs or volunteering at the animal shelter where she gets to walk and play with many dogs and other pets.

Charlotte Oliver

Viticulture Extension Specialist, Colorado State University

Grand Junction, CO

Charlotte received her B.S, M.S., and Ph.D. in Plant Pathology with a focus on wine grapes from Virginia Tech. Charlotte took her position with CSU in Jul 2022 where her primary role is interacting with the Colorado grape industry and providing timely educational resources for commercial and backyard grape growers. Her current program goals are to fill in the educational gaps between active research programs and the Colorado industry, evaluate the presence and distribution of grape viruses across the state, and diversify the production of table grapes on the Western slope.

Blake Osborn

Principal and Lead Scientist, Corriente Environmental Solutions LLC.

Canon City, CO

Blake Osborn is the principal of Corriente Solutions, a hydrologic consulting firm working with partners to achieve their water resource goals on wild and working lands. Blake is a Colorado native, having grown up using water in every way imaginable and he has dedicated the past 10+ years to developing innovative water management solutions for farms, cities, wildlife, and recreation interests. He specializes in drought resiliency, source-water hydrology, irrigation water management, water rights and hydrologic modeling.

Annie Overlin

Rangeland Specialist- Eastern Colorado and San Luis Valley, CSU Extension

Pueblo, CO

Annie began her career with the US Geological Survey (USGS) in Moab, UT as a botanist/soil scientist with an interdisciplinary team of geomorphologists and soils scientists mapping the vegetation of Escalante National Monument, Canyonlands National Park, and the Great Basin. Since working with the USGS, she ran her own business focusing on the restoration of agriculturally converted pastures, rangelands, and wetlands in California and northern Nevada. She worked as a researcher in rangeland restoration at the University of Nevada and is now ecstatic to be home in Colorado serving as the new Peaks to Plains Regional Range Specialist for CSU Extension since 2018. Annie is part of a 6th generation ranching family in south central Colorado and continues to work with her family who are heavily involved in land preservation and water issues in the Arkansas River Valley. Her program responsibilities for managing healthy rangelands span the spectrum of improving soil health, utilizing annual cover crops for grazing, and financial farm/ranch management for women.

Brad Tonnessen

Research Scientist, CSU Organic Agriculture Research Station

Hotchkiss, Colorado

Brad is from Paonia, CO, and serves as the Research Scientist at the CSU Organic Agriculture Research Station at Rogers Mesa. He is working to sustain and build the community presence of this research station and produce ground-breaking research to benefit farmers. Brad focuses on bridging the communication gap between the public and the university, emphasizing applied research to solve immediate issues, especially drought. He grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and earned his PhD in plant pathology with CSU. Before ending up in western CO, he was an organic farming teacher for a non-profit in Sacramento, CA, and a chile pepper breeder in southern NM. Outside the research station, you’ll find Brad either biking, fishing, dancing, or starting new projects like brewing hard cider from his surplus apples.

Mark Uchanski

Associate Professor of Horticulture, Vegetable Cropping Systems at Colorado State University

Fort Collins, CO

Mark Uchanski was born and raised in the far western suburbs of Chicago, Illinois - where the suburbs meet rural America, corn, and soybeans. He fell in love with vegetable farming systems and food systems in his backyard and grandfather's garden in Chicago. He attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) for his undergraduate degree in horticulture. He later went on to pursue his Ph.D., also at UIUC. His graduate project involved testing and removing pathogens from horseradish propagation stock to provide pathogen-free planting materials to growers. Shortly after graduation in 2008, Uchanski moved to New Mexico to serve the commercial chile pepper and onion industries as Assistant Professor of Horticulture at New Mexico State University. That work soon expanded to include small farm, diversified, and organic operations. In 2015, Uchanski moved to Fort Collins to serve as the Colorado State University Specialty Crops Program Coordinator. There he continues his work with vegetable and other specialty crop producers, including conducting research on sustainable and organic practices and inputs that are applicable to Colorado agriculture. As an Associate Professor at CSU, he continues to blend his research and teaching interests in horticulture, ecology, and inputs in sustainable vegetable cropping systems.

Lauren Vilen

Doctoral Student, Department of Education at CSU

Fort Collins, CO

Lauren Vilen holds a M.Ed. in Education and Human Resources Studies with a specialization in Adult Education and Training from Colorado State University. Her research interests include environmental adult education, community-based education, and the professional identity and development of non-formal educators addressing environmental sustainability issues. Lauren also has over 10 years of professional experience in public lands and non-profit program management, where she developed and implemented service-learning programs for young adults focused on environmental stewardship and job readiness in the natural resource field. Lauren supports Drought Advisors because she believes interprofessional collaborations are how we make progress in addressing complex socio-ecological problems.

Drew Walters

Agriculture Specialist, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails & CSU Extension

Glenwood Springs, CO

Drew Walters is an Agriculture Specialist with Pitkin County Open Space and Trails and CSU Extension. His work involves helping manage the county’s agriculture leasing program, as well as assisting producers throughout the Roaring Fork Valley. Drew has a Bachelor’s in Biology from Fort Lewis College and Master’s in Agricultural Sciences from Colorado State University. When not at work, he enjoys spending time outdoors and traveling.

Christina Welch

Outreach and Research Coordinator for the Agricultural Water Quality Program (AWQP) at Colorado State University (CSU)

Fort Collins, CO

Christina Welch is the Outreach and Research Coordinator for the Agricultural Water Quality Program (AWQP) at Colorado State University (CSU). Christina is pursuing her passion for facilitating effective, science-based communication within the broader context of applied research. In this role, she supports the validation of agricultural Better Management Practices to inform decision-making at the state and farm level in Colorado. She advances collaborative efforts and effective outreach communication for the AWQP’s diverse network of stakeholders. Her interdisciplinary background includes project management, GIS mapping, grant writing and strategic planning. She completed her joint master’s degree in Water Cooperation and Diplomacy from OSU, IHE-Delft, and UPaz. She is currently pursuing a PhD program investigating how to apply behavioral economics principles to advance decision making around water management adaptation and drought planning.

Gus Westerman

Extension Director in Dolores County

Dove Creek, CO

Gus Westerman, CSU Extension Director in Dolores County and Drought Advisor. Gus’s work has included acting as a resource to agricultural producers as they navigate risk management programs, plan for the future, and take the needed steps for their businesses to survive. He loves being on a team with his peers who all want to tackle this issue head-on and help to mitigate the negative impacts of drought. When he is not busy serving his community, he is probably fishing.

Jill Zarestky

Associate Professor of Education, CSU

Fort Collins, CO

Jill is an associate professor in the Adult Education and Training program in the School of Education at Colorado State University. She earned a Ph.D. in educational human resource development, with a specialization in adult education, from Texas A&M University and a master’s degree in computational and applied mathematics from the University of Texas, Austin. Jill has over 20 years of teaching and adult education experience. Her research interests include informal education and adult STEM education, with funding from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Past Members

Micaela Fenton

Outgoing Project Manager for Drought Advisors and DARCA Communications and Outreach Director

Greeley, CO

Micaela Fenton is the Outgoing Project manager for Colorado Agricultural Drought Advisors. Micaela grew up in Greeley, where she found her passion for the agricultural community around her, quickly learning about the value of water, and pushing her to go to CSU. Micaela graduated from Colorado State with a degree in Soil and Crops Sciences, focused on water resources and agriculture.

During her time with Drought Advisors, Micaela helped with the initial capacity building, organizing the group around a mission, vision, and strategic communications plan. She co-authored a grant securing funding for two years of the Drought Plan Program and helped put on a six-part Drought Leadership Program. Currently, Micaela spends her time with Drought Advisors designing the Drought Handbook to be released towards the end of 2022. Micaela also works with the Ditch and Reservoir Company Alliance as their Communications and Outreach Director where she manages their strategic communications, membership engagement, and their Colorado Water Ambassador Program.

When she is not working, Micaela is probably spending lots of time with family, friends, or her crazy two dogs, doing something creative, or hiking. Micaela is passionate about solving problems that help people and wants to continue doing that throughout her career.

Madeline Goebel

Social Science Research Assistant for the National Drought Mitigation Center

Lincoln, Nebraska

Maddie joined the National Drought Mitigation Center as a social science research assistant in the fall of 2021 after completing a M.S. in Natural Resources, where she studied perceptions of risk associated with exposure to lead. Maddie is working to better understand how agricultural producers and others are coping with the risks associated with drought, in addition to identifying the pathways and barriers to drought adaptation and mitigation. She also helps to elicit feedback from NDMC stakeholders to inform the development of future engagement efforts and decision support tools. Maddie has worked with Drought Advisors on the Drought Leadership Handbook.

Tonya Haigh

Research Assistant Professor and the Social Science Coordinator and Project Coordinator for the National Drought Mitigation Center

Lincoln, Nebraska

Dr. Tonya Haigh is a Research Assistant Professor and the Social Science Coordinator and Project Coordinator for the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln. Dr. Haigh’s research focuses on the adaptive capacity of agricultural producers and others to cope with drought. Her research connects social science with climate science by informing the development of stakeholder-driven resources and tools. Dr. Haigh has worked with ranchers, advisors, and researchers to develop the Managing Drought Risk on the Ranch website and has provided social science expertise to the development of climate decision support tools for Corn Belt producers and specialty crop growers. Dr. Haigh’s academic and research expertise includes social theory related to climate risk management, survey development and administration, quantitative data collection and analysis, and qualitative data collection and analysis. Project management expertise includes outcome-based planning and evaluation.

Harrison Topp

Farmer and Rocky Mountain Farmers Union

Hotchkiss, CO

Harrison Topp is one of the founding members of Drought Advisors. Until recently, he was the Director of Membership for Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, moving on in 2022 to focus on his farm in the North Fork Valley. In his multiple professional and personal roles, he advocates for farmers and ranchers alike, as he has a deep passion for working and connecting with his fellow producers.
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