Francis and his wife, Susan, own and operate an 80-cow, grass-based, organic dairy near Fairfield, Iowa. They have a processing plant on their farm where they process all the milk from their cows. In the processing plant they produce bottled milk, cheese and yogurt which they market through grocery stores and restaurants in their local community. All their milk products are sold within four miles of their farm.


Francis grew up on a hog and dairy farm, where he helped with farm work from an early age. During high school he was up at four in the morning in order to finish milking before going to school.

After high school, Francis completed a B.A. degree in music and philosophy. After that, he returned to the family farm full-time for nine years. Then, Francis attended graduate school, completing an M.S. in soil science and a Ph.D. in agronomy, with a soil fertility specialty.Francis Thicke of Radiance Dairy - Fairfield, Iowa

After completing his Ph.D., Francis worked at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., serving as the National Program Leader for Soil Science for the USDA-Extension Service. Francis and Susan returned to full-time farming in 1992 in the farming operation they own and operate today.


At the appointment of Iowa governors, Francis has served on the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission, the Iowa Food Policy Council, and the Iowa Organic Standards Boards.

Other positions he has served in include the USDA State Technical Committee, the Scientific Congress on Organic Agriculture Research, the Iowa State University Extension Advisory Committee, the Organic Farming Research Foundation Board of Directors, the Governing Council of the Consortium for Sustainable Agriculture Research, the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service Board of Directors, and the Search Committee for ISU Dean of College of Agriculture.

On two occasions Francis has been invited to Washington, D.C. to testify before the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee to represent the interests of farmers.


Wisdom From A TractorFrancis and Susan’s farming operation is considered innovative in many respects, including how they integrate livestock onto the landscape in an ecologically sound way, their value-added dairy processing, the design and management of their grazing system, and their use of alternative energy systems.

Many classes, from elementary school to college graduate students, visit their farm annually.

Over the years, they have held numerous field days on the farm and hosted many visitors, including a number of international visitors and two delegations from the World Bank.


Francis has received many awards and honors over the years, including:

  • The 2009 Spencer Award for Sustainable Agriculture from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture
  • 2007 Sustainable Agriculture Achievement Award from the Practical Farmers of Iowa
  • Friend of Extension Award from Iowa State University Extension Service
  • Outstanding Pasture Management Award from the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District
  • Steward of the Land Award from the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club