Sowing seeds of success

by Ashley Johnson

In a fast-paced, drive-thru fed society, the process of getting food from the field to the family dinner table is often dismissed, the importance of each, carefully grown nutrient forgotten.

However, thanks to a newly established research farm in Fairlie, Texas, A&M-Commerce students are taking new ownership of the food they eat and the land where it’s produced. The farm, leased to the university by Cereal Crop Research Incorporated (CCRI), allows students to study and research the best practices for growing wheat and other crops by planting and harvesting wheat on their own 10-acre plot.

According to Jim Swart, co-founder of the program and Texas AgriLife Extension agent at A&M-Commerce, this program is one of only three in the United States.

“Students have a unique opportunity at A&M-Commerce to plant, fertilize, harvest, and sell a crop during the course of a semester,” Swart said. “They learn how to operate farm equipment and machinery that they would otherwise not be exposed to. At the end of the semester, the students earned between $600 and $1200 selling their wheat crops. Any losses would have been absorbed by CCRI.”

The farm produces more than monetary gain for students, however. It also serves the interests of regional farmers and members of CCRI who are eager to know which fertilizers, herbicides and seed varieties will work best on their soils. Thanks to the program, the farmers can rely on student research and results, rather than testing out individual products on their own farms.

“Partnerships like this bring the Texas AgriLife Extension’s mission to life,” Swart said. “Thanks to CCRI, we are able to directly impact the lives of those in our community through student-led research. It allows us to transition from simply teaching agriculture science, to creating knowledge and instilling passion for the land in our students.”

According to Ben Scholz, CCRI president and A&M-Commerce alumnus, the program also feeds a growing demand for people in the agricultural support industry with an interest in the chemistry and science of agriculture. Programs like this introduce students to the various career options in agriculture from sales to research and development of new fertilizers and equipment, and consequently keep the U.S. farmer competitive through technology and efficiency.
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For alumni like Josh Singleton, the experience of working in the field day-in and day-out proved invaluable after graduation and inspired the creation of Spring Fed Farms, a community-supported agriculture (CSA) venture in Terrell, Texas.

“Growing up in the city I had a home garden, but this class offered me a bigger perspective of farming/gardening. Once I was introduced to the CSA model of agriculture I knew this is what I had to do for a living. This class prepared me for the hands on experience that I’m using now.”

For Scholz, that’s what the partnership is all about-inspiring a new generation to care about how their food is produced, and find the best way, most effective and cost-efficient way to bring it to market.

“So many students come to college with an interest in agriculture that’s animal based; they have no real experience working on a ranch or farm.” Scholz said. “The research farm opens their eyes to the world of agronomy and the business side of agriculture. Through hands-on learning, we are able to keep students interested in agriculture, and improve our ability as a nation to effectively and efficiently produce food for a growing population.”