Yielding Results: Soybean Field Becomes Lab Study for Southeast Sikeston Ag Students

2016-reg-sikeston-agriculture-1027-10-bm_720x480_72_rgbThe Southeast Missouri State University Department of Agriculture’s soybean field at the University’s Sikeston Regional Campus has provided multi-use opportunities for educational growth and development this semester.

The 12-acre field, which contains 36 plots with 13 different varieties of soybeans provided by Pioneer Seed Co., allows Southeast students to bring the laboratory to the field, said G. Byron McVay, instructor of agriculture.

“Soybeans are becoming a highly important crop as the agriculture industry tries to meet world demands,” he said. “Having the field so close has given Southeast students the ability to cultivate the crop while testing different theories and learning scientific techniques.”

Over the summer and the fall semester, McVay and his students focused on three studies: a soybean variety trial to understand optimum yield production, a polysulfate study to examine different fertilizer treatments, and a fungal infestations study to research water application timing and crop disease development.

Jesse Griffin, a sophomore agribusiness major from New Madrid, Missouri, helped plant and care for the soybeans over the six-month period.

“I really liked being a part of the project from the start,” said Griffin. “It was an experience I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere but here.”

Griffin, who did not have a background in agriculture before attending Southeast, enjoyed the challenges of managing the field, even when difficulties arose when weather delayed planting, equipment challenges affected weed control, or with installing a brand new irrigation system.

2016-reg-sikeston-agriculture-1027-05-bm_720x480_72_rgb“I know everything about that system now,” said Griffin, who spent hours studying the system’s manual.

The center point pivot irrigation system is widely used across the southeast Missouri area, said Dr. Michael Aide, chair of the department. Understanding how the varieties of soybeans react to the irrigation method could save water, energy and time.

“Overwatering soybeans can be big problem due to irrigation timing and the volatile nature of Missouri rainfall patterns,” he said. “By assessing the damages to each variety of soybean based on their water consumption, we can evaluate which varieties do better and how to treat the damaged ones.”

Timing of the water and the amount used is essential for the growth and health of the plants and field, he said.

McVay and his students also purposefully watered the soybean varieties at night, which created new ailments for them to tackle.

“It’s like your houseplants when you’re told not to put them to bed with their feet wet,” said Griffin. “It’s the same idea here.”

Students identified the different diseases afflicting the various varieties of soybeans, McVay said.

2016-reg-sikeston-agriculture-1027-11-bm_720x480_72_rgb“Soybean varieties have different tolerance level to disease infestations,” he said. “Here they get to see what the different diseases look like on the plants and determine the best treatment options.”

Along with the three main projects, the field also provides many unscheduled teaching opportunities, from plant and weed identification, to pest management and plant pathology, McVay said. It’s all about having hands-on experience to prepare Southeast students for successful careers in agriculture.

“We want them to be well rounded agronomists,” he said.

The field will continue to provide multiple opportunities for educational purposes every year, Aide said.

Having the field’s proximity to her classes in Sikeston has given her opportunities she couldn’t fathom in a typical classroom, Griffin said.

“You can just walk out of the classroom and into a real lab experience,” she said “Even something unexpected can be still be good because even though it may be a problem, I’m learning how to find the correct solution.”