Advisory Group Planting Seeds for Bootheel Agribusiness Program’s Success

Malden CampusCAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., July 19, 2013 – Southeast Missouri State University’s four-year degree program in agribusiness will begin its fourth year this fall at its three Bootheel campuses with groundwork well under way that is channeling advice from local agribusiness leaders to guide the program’s success.

An advisory group to the program was formed last November and has already met three times this year, driving several new initiatives now in place.

Dan Jennings, president and co-owner of Jennings Brothers Inc. and a member of the Advisory Group, said the group’s efforts will benefit both Southeast Missouri State as well as agriculture in southeast Missouri. He says the agribusiness and farming communities are concerned about the next generation in the agriculture workforce and how they are going to be trained.

“They need to be better educated and Southeast Missouri State needs to be sure the students are prepared for the job market,” he said. “The combination of the University wanting to provide a quality education and the agribusiness community saying this is what we need is a ‘win-win’ on both sides of the aisle.”

The Agribusiness Advisory Group is a consortium of 25 key members of the agriculture community in the Missouri Bootheel. The members represent farming operations, banking and lending institutions, implement dealers, irrigation well operations, seed and storage suppliers, fertilizer and herbicide suppliers, and transportation.

The group collaborates with the University to insure the relevancy and success of the agribusiness program and its initiatives by identifying resources and funding opportunities to fulfill the needs of Southeast students and regional campus lab and classroom facilities. It also works to provide scholarship assistance, work study internships and job placement for Southeast’s agribusiness students, and participates in enhancing and building the program to add a real-world, hands on dimension to it.

The group’s goal is to prepare agribusiness students with the skills to be a first choice hire in the agricultural industry, promote regional economic development and opportunities in agriculture and horticulture, and serve the farming community by fostering sustainable stewardship techniques in soil and water resource conservation.

Jennings says southeast Missouri is an enormous fertile asset requiring agriculture professionals trained to manage it.

“The fact that Monsanto and Pioneer Seed Corn have built facilities here says something about this area,” he said. “We are going to have to have a better trained, better educated workforce.”

He says the Advisory Group has been more successful and more engaged than he originally anticipated. At the end of their meetings, members are still offering suggestions and asking questions, he said.

“Dr. Aide and his staff have taken that (input) and done things with it,” Jennings said. “That tells me the University is very interested in what we have to say.”

Dr. Mike Aide, chair of Southeast’s Department of Agriculture agrees.

“We listen to what they have to say,” he said.

Aide says several initiatives are in progress as a result of the group’s input.

First, the BioMass/BioFuels Student Lab and Research Field at Southeast Missouri State University-Sikeston has been completed, Aide said. Irrigation Central, a well/irrigation supplier, is donating equipment and labor to install a well, pump, turbine motor, irrigation feed piping and electronic control panel for a pivot irrigation system.

Southeast’s BioMass/BioFuels Student Lab and Research Field is a 12-acre plot in its working farm behind the Sikeston, Mo., campus at 2401 N. Main. A two-year grant from the Delta Regional Authority, the Missouri Research Corporation and the Missouri Department of Agriculture is assisting in the effort.

Biomass is any plant material that can be converted into a fuel source or an alternative to chemicals in plastics, paints, carpets, adhesives, cosmetics, alcohol, pharmaceuticals and other products. Biomass is agricultural crops in harvested, unprocessed form, including locally grown row crops, such as corn, and residues, alternative crops and woody biomass. Biomass ranges from stalks and leaves left after a harvest to sweet sorghum, Miscanthus, switch grass, sunflowers, canola and sugar beets grown specifically for use as biomass.

Jennings acknowledges that the BioMass/BioFuels Research Field is still in its infancy, but says, “Anything that students can participate in and see is a big plus for them.”

The field has given students access to and allowed them to implement field studies necessary to complete an agribusiness degree. Soil sciences students also have done a full soil and nutrient analysis of the field as a capstone project, Aide said.

HOLT Agribusiness of Sikeston, Mo., kicked off the BioMass/BioFuels project last year by donating a tractor to Southeast’s Bootheel agribusiness program. The Massey Ferguson 2650 is being used by the agriculture program in Southeast’s outdoor laboratories at its regional campuses in Sikeston as well as in Malden and Kennett, Mo. The 70-horsepower tractor is giving Southeast’s students necessary field experience, undergraduate research and production agriculture abilities.

The Advisory Group also has arranged for regional implement dealer, Greenway/John Deere, to provide field preparation and precision land grade with a new technique called Terra Cutta at the Sikeston Research Field. Technicians recently made a presentation to students on the technique, which Aide says will greatly expand the ability for students to conduct necessary lab and field studies within the agribusiness curriculum at the Sikeston campus.

Jennings says Terra Cutta “uses satellites and GPS and puts ground to grade by using the slope already there,” thereby requiring less soil to be moved and in a more economical fashion.

“It is definitely state-of-the-art,” he said. “I think it is the wave of the future.”

Implementing the Terra Cutta technique is part of a broader directive from the Advisory Group to integrate technology from other University disciplines into the agribusiness program. Southeast officials are currently exploring ways to incorporate technical and electronics skills taught in its industrial and engineering technology curriculum into the agribusiness program.

At the recommendation of the Advisory Group, a sponsored research program is under way to study arsenic uptake in rice. This is a two-year study in collaboration with G.M. Lawrence & Co.’s corporate farming operation. The study is currently taking place on a 60-acre plot just south of Sikeston, and also is replicated at the Missouri Rice Fields in Glennonville, Mo., just west of Southeast Missouri State University-Malden. Jennings says researchers are studying if irrigating instead of flooding rice fields will prevent the development of arsenic in the crop.

The Advisory Group also has been a proponent of providing scholarships for agribusiness students. As a result, an endowed agribusiness scholarship has been fulfilled, and a pledge has been given to endow a second scholarship.

“Five hundred dollars doesn’t mean much to some of us, but it’s all the difference in the world to these kids,” Jennings said.

The Advisory Group also is paving the way for a Student Agribusiness Leaders program to provide agribusiness students opportunities to interface with businesses and agricultural operations to better prepare them with soft people skills necessary for careers in the industry. As a part of the program, students will visit agribusinesses to observe technology, experience the role and scope of the business and get insight into the necessary academic, social and professional skills required for successful careers. The program is designed to instill leadership, entrepreneurship and key soft skills in agribusiness and agriculture education majors.

Jennings added, “Sometimes, just spending time around people who have been successful and involved in big operations, there is something to be gained from that.”

Greg Adkinson, Southeast director of development, said, “The scholarships and Student Agribusiness Leaders Program will improve the ability to have access and interaction to education and experiential learning opportunities as well as open communication to area agribusinesses for internships and job placement opportunities.”

Aide says 115 students are enrolled in Southeast’s agribusiness program at its three Bootheel campuses. The curriculum is composed of newly developed courses specifically tailored to the agriculture of southeast Missouri, its agribusiness and its economy. The emphasis is on producing graduates who will have a blend in business and agriculture more than sufficient to meet the emerging agriculture potential of southeast Missouri.

The four degree options – agricultural industry, animal science, horticulture, and plant and soil science — leading to the Bachelor of Science in agribusiness combine study in agricultural economics, management, marketing, sales, finance and policy with specialized study in one or more agricultural areas. All four options can lead to careers in management, marketing, sales, finance, policy, production, or other areas within the agricultural, horticultural and food system, Aide says.