Archive for November, 2012

Corn takes a star turn in high school student’s video, “Ethanol Rocks!”

Pleasant soundtrack music swells while the smooth camera motion takes the viewer through rows of corn, and allows the eye to follow the pleasing green lines of the stocks and abundant golden grain peeking out of the ears. Then we see the corn leaves waving gently in the breeze, silhouetted by bright sunshine. All the while a narrator gives a simple but convincing set of facts about ethanol.

This visual celebration of corn and ethanol comes to us through the very accomplished video production of high school senior Jason Girouard, of Brimfield, Massachusetts, the winner of the Ethanol Rocks video contest sponsored by National Corn Growers Association. Girouard received $1500 for his winning entry. Freshman Emily Yue from Gilford, Connecticut and senior Lewis Kloster of Minneapolis, Minnesota were both awarded second-place honor and $500 a piece.

Words and phrases like “corn can do so much” “renewable” “replaces millions of gallons of foreign imported oil” and “the highest performing fuel on the market” appear on the screen while the narrator extolls the usefulness of ethanol.

“The purpose of the contest was to get youth interested in learning about renewable fuel while having fun,” said NCGA Ethanol Committee Chair Chad Willis. “However, I think we may have turned a few of the more inquisitive kids into ethanol evangelists. The enthusiasm about their learning experience was the biggest payoff of the project.”

The top three videos can be viewed at

Opportunities for Bright Young Minds

By Agvocate Nick Peterson

Most of us cannot help it.  If you find yourself perusing through all of the Yahoo news stories every other day as they pop up on your home page, you are not alone.  While I do not rely on Yahoo to base my life decisions on, I do use it to brush up on current events that I might be missing out on. I also use Yahoo to find weird or interesting stories that entertain me.  Perhaps it is common among the younger generations, but I assume that on some level, the authors of these short current event stories have at least a shred of credibility. 

The issue that I currently have and am bringing up yet once again is a story that came to my attention last spring on “useless” college majors. This caught my attention because the article listed agriculture as one of the five most useless degrees.

Many people in the agricultural industry most likely have heard or were involved with the backlash that already erupted from this article.  I know my Facebook page, in which I am connected to many agricultural majors and enthusiasts, pretty much exploded.  The reason agricultural enthusiasts were upset (in addition to the damage to our pride) was due to this study misusing statistics to prove a point that is inaccurate. This statistic could potentially drive bright young students away from seeking a degree in an agricultural profession. 

The best defense is a good offense. 

I recently spoke with a professor of mine at the University of Minnesota, Dr. Vernon Cardwell.  We spoke about the current state of the agricultural field and its demand for Bachelor of Science majors.    According to the conversations he has had with industry professionals, as well as the attention that companies in the industry have directed at us undergraduate students, the demand for Bachelor of Science graduates is almost twice the supply.  As a junior pursuing my Applied Plant Science degree at the University of Minnesota, this information makes me feel pretty good about my future. 

Dr. Cardwell also mentioned that the majority of this push by the industry for Bachelor of Science graduates comes from a need for more knowledgeable agronomists.  Seed companies, such as Monsanto and Pioneer, have realized that the seed market depends on more than just the bag of seed.  The ability of a seed representative to place each bag of seed in the field or each soil type that will garner the highest yields is a must.  Therein lies the need for more qualified agronomists to either place that seed or train the seed representative who will. 

Winfield’s Answer Plots are an example of an attempt by seed companies to engage with growers on a more knowledgeable, cutting edge level.  By looking at current field issues and ways to correct or prevent them in the future, they are selling agronomic advice in addition to the traditional product sales.  As evidenced by the success that programs such as these Answer Plots have brought to their companies, this is a valuable business tool.  Since this area is only expanding, it will mean more jobs for agronomists. 

The industry of plant breeding relies heavily on the ever evolving molecular and genetic lab processes to produce the high yielding hybrids and varieties we see planted today.  Dollars invested in research and development by seed companies certainly are not dwindling with the high corn and soybean prices.  These companies are looking for graduates with lab experience to fuel their research.  For example, Pioneer just opened a $40 million plant genetics research facility that will create 400 new jobs.

This is an opportunity for graduates who may not even have an interest in the agronomic field, but rather enjoy lab and molecular level work. 

One part of the agricultural industry that is under-appreciated when comparing ag majors to others majors is the availability and profitability of internships.  First, in many other majors or professions, internships might not even be paid.  These are invaluable opportunities for undergraduates to both help pay for schooling as well as get real world, on the job experience.  Second, internships often lead to full time positions following graduation. Third, the wide availability of internships to undergraduate students is something that I feel few other professions can offer.  Whether it is through fall internship fairs on campus, direct searches, or virtual job agents through programs such as GoldPass at the U of M (through which a rough estimate of forty internships were posted and sent to my email inbox this fall), agriculture is one industry that does not fail to give prospective employees hands on work experience. 

I realize that it may be difficult for graduates to start a farming business on their own without a personal or family connection to a farm due to the high land prices and capital investment. However, this is not where the bulk of agricultural jobs are located.  The agronomist positions, plant breeding, and lab positions are where the real demand for agricultural jobs are located; these areas are booming right now.  In my Applied Plant Science major at the University of Minnesota, the students boast close to a one hundred percent placement rate following graduation.  This is why I don’t see myself as concerned about my future as other students in other majors at this university.

It is time for the younger generation to realize all the opportunities we have in agriculture. Misused statistics that pop up on laptops should not deter students from considering studying this industry.  The growth of the agricultural field is spurring our food production. Making the decision to pursue a career in agriculture is one that I have never looked back on throughout my collegiate career and I know that I will not regret it in the future.

Eons at the verge of prairie and forest created “Lester”

The highly productive, clayey soil now designated “Minnesota State Soil”

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Some 400,000 acres, across 17 counties in south central Minnesota are home to some of the most productive soil on earth, called Lester soil. Legislation signed in April by Gov. Mark Dayton recognized Lester as the state soil of Minnesota, and a series of programs to celebrate Lester and all of Minnesota’s soils is now underway, including an exhibit called Dig It!, opening Nov. 10 at the Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus.

“Lester is well drained, with a nice, thick ‘a-horizon’ — that black surface soil,” said Gary Elsner, a soil scientist at Minnesota Department of Agriculture. “There are a thousand different soil series in Minnesota. Lester is in the well-drained positions which are higher in the landscape (Slopes 5 to 70 percent).”

Elsner chairs the “Perfect Storm for Minnesota Soils” committee of the Minnesota Association of Professional Soil Scientists (MAPSS), which singled out Lester soil as something special back in 1987, but did not succeed in getting the official state seal for it until this year.

“Lester soil formed at the prairie and forest interface,” Elsner said. “Most of southern Minnesota soils were worked around by glaciers, and they have been forming ever since. A forest forms and that influences the soil, then a forest fire clears the land and it becomes prairie. Over a very long time period, it goes back and forth. In forested land you get clays near the surface, and over time these leach down and they accumulate deeper in the profile. So you get a layer that has a higher water-holding capacity and that makes it more productive–both for agriculture and forestry.”

“The Perfect Storm for Minnesota Soils” committee of MAPPS arose to publicize the series of important soil science events taking place last year, this year and next. Ultimately, the committee hopes to use these events to make the public more aware of the incredible importance of productive soil in their everyday lives. The roster of events shows that concern for the health of our soils is nothing new among farmers, foresters and soil scientists. In 2011, it was the 75th anniversary of the Soil Science Society of America. This year is the 150th anniversary of the USDA (inaugurated by Pres. Abraham Lincoln). In addition to successfully passing the soil legislation this year, the University of Minnesota’s Bell Museum has a new exhibit, Dig It!, devoted to soil and including soil “monoliths” (glass columns showing the stratifications within soil series like Lester) for all the official soils of the 50 states. The exhibit opens Nov. 10.

For more information on Dig It! go to

The soil events continue, according to Elsner. Next year is both the 100th anniversary of the University of Minnesota Department of Soil, Water and Climate, and the 40th Anniversary of MAPSS. Various tours and special events at locations like the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum are planned.

Elsner noted that MAPSS chose Lester soils for a number of reasons, including that it is photogenic, but its water-storing capacity may be its most important feature, especially in drought years such as Minnesota experienced in 2012 and 1988.

“Whether you’re growing a tree or a corn plant–if you have more water it’s going to grow better,” said Elsner. “When you compare to a sandy soil, you can see how Lester holds more water, and it will do better at producing healthy plants than the sandy soil, when we have dry weather conditions.”

Lester soils were first identified in Lester Prairie, in McLeod County in 1939. According to MAPPS, soil supports 235,000 jobs in Minnesota. Roughly one hundred scientists belong to MAPPS, including state and federal government workers, academics and private industry workers.