Day in the field shows students issues in environment, sustainability

Sept. 21, 2012
Contact Information:

Holly Yeatman, Department of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences
479-422-5281 / hyeatman@uark.edu

Dave Edmark, Agricultural Communication Services
479-575-6940 / dedmark@uark.edu

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david moseley lectures

David Moseley, a program technician in the crop, soil, and environmental sciences department, explains to students from Mountainburg High School how soybean seeds are cross-bred to create new varieties.
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sheri herron lectures

Sheri Herron, a doctoral student in soil science and water quality, discusses the significance of soil layers for students from Mountainburg High School.
(Click on image to download full-resolution version.)

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – When the high school students arrived for their stop on a field day tour, they found a few soybeans awaiting each of them at their seats – and not just any soybeans, but the vegetable soybeans known as edamame now being grown and processed in Arkansas.

The green, sweet tasting soybeans attracted some attention from the students, who then heard David Moseley tell the story of how the vegetable soybean variety known as UA Kirksey was developed through cross-breeding techniques by Professor Pengyin Chen at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

"American Vegetable Soybean and Edamame, Inc. are now growing edamame in the River Valley and taking it to the processing plant and selling it to the stores," said Moseley, a program technician for Chen in the UA crop, soil, and environmental sciences department, which hosted the field trip.

The department sponsored its fourth annual environmental and agricultural sustainability field trip on Sept. 18 at its facilities north of the Fayetteville campus for about 200 high school students from Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Mountainburg. They spent more than two hours visiting short sessions hosted by department faculty and staff members who explained issues in agricultural science and how people with careers in these disciplines are addressing those issues.

"If we don't continue to get new varieties of soybeans, our yield will stay exactly what it is," Moseley told the high school visitors as he explained the techniques of cross-breeding. "In 2004 we averaged 39 bushels per acre. Now the yield is 60 bushels and some people have 100 bushels per acre. But if we're going to continue feeding the world, we have to continue to bring up the yield."

The students went outdoors to find another stop on the tour, this one with their host standing several feet down in a hole. That's where Sheri Herron, a doctoral student in soil science and water quality, explained the importance of soil layers.

"The darker the soil is, the higher the organic matter, which is really good for plants and much better for cropping," Herron said as she pointed to an upper layer near the ground level. "If you have just two inches of a dark layer like we do with the forest soils around here, you can't grow a crop on them; they just want to grow trees."

Herron broke up some of the soil in her hands and discussed the importance of its texture. Sandy soil, for example, allows water to move through it quickly and makes it necessary to water more often than would be necessary with clay soil. Clay soil holds water back and makes irrigation less necessary.

Contemporary environmental issues find their origins in the soil. "If we get a major rain event, how much is going to run off and carry contaminants into the rivers?" Herron asked. "I look at that for fertilizers and any other kind of contaminant that can affect our water supply and that will affect the fish life in the rivers. If we allow contaminants into our water supply, that means we have to do that much more work to filter them back out."

Lisa Wood, CSES instructor and environmental consultant, said the high school students were “polite, attentive, and interested in what they were being shown. At lunch, I found the students wanted to pick my brain about what kinds of jobs are out there for environmental, soil and water science majors and what kinds of work I do on a daily basis. Several already know what they want to do next year, others were still testing the waters and taking it all in.”

“This field trip was designed to give the students an ideas of the wide range of subject matter and job opportunities available in agriculture and environmental areas,” said Holly Yeatman, recruiting coordinator for CSES. “Whether a student wants to work inside in a lab or outside in the field, opportunities are wide open. We need talented young people who will solve the environmental and agricultural problems of tomorrow.”

Students who enroll in the department's curriculum will pursue coursework in the UA Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences.

Students also stopped to see presentations on the role of switchgrass in bioenergy crop production, macro-invertebrates in streams, weed physiology, laboratory analysis of soil samples, crop water supply, a biodiesel plant demonstration using cooking oil from UA food service units and sustainable weed management.