Four graduate students in varying life science disciplines have been named 2019 Arkansas soybean fellows.
They are Brett Hale of Arkansas State University and three University of Arkansas students: Derrick Harrison, Zachary Lancaster and Grant “Lawson” Priess.
The four were recommended for the fellowships by the Arkansas Soybean Research and Promotion Board. The fellowships were announced by Mark Cochran, vice president-agriculture for the University of Arkansas System and head of the system’s Division of Agriculture.
Cochran said that “agriculture needs the best-equipped minds to keep the industry moving forward. These fellowships, which are a gift from the Soybean Research and Promotion Boards, are essential for ensuring top graduates for industry.”
“The Arkansas Soybean Research and Promotion Board is proud to be a part of the fellowship program,” said Rusty Smith, chairman of the board. “These recipients have worked hard, and show promise for the soybean industry and the state. While soybean producers are feeling the brunt of low prices, we must strive to keep young people in our industry. Congratulations to the winners! We expect great things.”
Hale, of Jonesboro, is working on a master’s degree in molecular biosciences at Arkansas State after receiving his bachelor’s degree in agronomy, graduating summa cum laude. Hale is currently working to establish a doubled haploid breeding platform for soybeans, with Greg Phillips, professor of plant biotechnology. His thesis “Characterization of Microspore Embryogenesis in Soybean,” aims to develop a breeding tool that will trim the amount of time needed to bring a cultivar to market.
“It’s an honor to be selected as an Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board Fellow,” Hale said. “I look forward to using this investment for the study and development of molecular breeding tools that will benefit growers across the state.”
Harrison, of Fayetteville, is a first-year grad student in the department of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences and expects to graduate in 2020 with a master’s in crop science. With plans to become a soybean breeder, he has spent the last year developing a new method for screening for flood-tolerant soybean germplasm using hydroponics. Harrison has been working with Leandro Mozzoni, soybean breeder for the Division of Agriculture. Harrison said he plans to continue working in the Arkansas soybean industry once his studies are complete.
Harrison said he was truly honored to be selected for a fellowship.
“I think it is a fantastic opportunity to highlight some of the research that Dr. Mozzoni and I are conducting for the benefit of Arkansas’ farmers,” he said. “I intend to use the financial award to help mitigate some of the financial burdens associated with graduate school as well as repay some of my existing student loans.”
Lancaster, of Jonesboro, grew up in a farming family that grew soybean and rice in Harrisburg. Lancaster was encouraged by Poinsett County extension agents to pursue a degree in agronomy, which he earned from Arkansas State.
He earned a master’s degree in weed science from the University of Arkansas and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in weed science, evaluating thiencarbazone-methyl, a new herbicide that could have multiple uses in soybean weed management. Taking a cue from Calvin Shumway, his undergraduate plant science professor, Lancaster plans to “keep the farmer first” in his career.
“I would just like to say that as a native Arkansan who grew up on a soybean farm in Poinsett County, I am honored to have been selected for this fellowship,” he said. “I plan to use this funding to finish my research on a new herbicide option in soybean weed management systems, and to continue a career in applied weed science that is of direct benefit to farmers.”
Priess, of Springdale, is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in weed science at the University of Arkansas, following up on his masters’ degree in the same subject. Priess said the goal of his research is to identify sound and practical herbicide programs that minimize the populations of herbicide resistant weeds such as Palmer amaranth, commonly known as pigweed.
Piess said that “the Arkansas Soybean Promotional fellowship has, and will allow, me to continue to refine and develop soybean weed management programs for Arkansas soybean producers.”
“I hope to provide insight on how to handle new soybean technologies that are coming to market and provide growers with accurate information that will allow for the best management practices,” he said.
Since 2012, the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board has funded 10 fellowships for Arkansas college students.
Nathan McKinney, assistant director of the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, the research arm of the Division of Agriculture, helps oversee the fellows project, sees the fellowships as a competitive advantage for the state.
“To be competitive, the soybean enterprise in Arkansas needs to develop, attract and retain the best talent,” he said. “Through the fellowship, soybean growers have been proactive in this effort. “We can point to several successful outcomes due to fellows.”
The Soybean Fellows program has proven that it helps bring Arkansas students into the agricultural professions. Past recipients who are now making a career in agriculture include:
• Ben Thrash, Extension entomologist with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
• Matthew Fryer, Extension soil health educator for the Division of Agriculture.
• Chris Meyer, research scientist with Corteva in Greenville, Mississippi.
• Kimberly Cochran, an assistant professor and Extension specialist at Texas A&M.
Thrash said that the “fellowship was very helpful to me in that it allowed me to focus on my studies instead of worrying about personal finances.”
The fellowship also had something of a ripple effect, Thrash said. “I was also able to hire a couple student workers to help me with my project, who in turn went on to pursue degrees in agriculture,” he said.
Fryer called the fellowship “a huge blessing, and very humbling,” and not just because it made finances a little less tight.
“Because I was chosen for the fellowship, it made me feel like my project was that much more important to Arkansas ag,” he said. “It helped me to realize the importance of working through my graduate program with the best of my ability because it could possibly affect row crop ag across the state.”
And his work did have an effect on row crop agriculture.
“My research led to the lowering of our phosphorus recommendations for rice and soybeans and further verified our confidence in our potassium fertilizer recommendations,” Fryer said. “Our Division of Agriculture potassium fertilizer recommendations for soybeans are the best and most accurate in the world. Literally.”
The University of Arkansas contributed this article.