Growing the next generation of farmers

Pat Sutphin / Collin Pound, a junior studying agronomy, presents his research studying the effects of nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizers on the yield rate and quality of newly seeded alfalfa fields during the Brigham Young University-Idaho Field Day on Friday in Rexburg. Pat Sutphin /

REXBURG — ­­ Brigham Young University-Idaho agronomy students are working to make farming easier and more cost-effective for growers in Idaho and around the world.

Every year, BYU-Idaho students participate in a wide range of crop studies in cooperation with agribusinesses such as Monsanto or research universities such as University of Idaho. The goal of the studies to provide a service for Idaho’s agricultural community and improve students’ ability to do agronomy research.

“Whether a student is going to grad school or going back to the farm, it’s important they have an opportunity to see cutting-edge stuff and learn how to research, collect data and do analysis,” agronomy professor Greg Blaser said.

After months of planting, monitoring and information gathering, students are finalizing the initial findings from more than a dozen studies. Students presented their projects Friday to a cadre of industry professionals, university professors and students at the 38th annual Small Grains and Forages Field Day.

Sophomore Natalie Johnson gave a presentation on interseeding — the process of growing two crops together on the same plot so one can be harvested and the other — a shorter plant — can remain as a cover crop.

“(Cover crops) basically protect healthy soil from erosion (via) wind or water,” Johnson said. “Keeping a grass or — in this case a red clover — keeps the soil from moving.”

Johnson said interseeding isn’t a new concept, but farmers still are looking to find the best plants to use as cover crops. Students are testing red clover and alfalfa as cover crops for barley at the BYU-Idaho farms.

Madison County grower Brent Ritchie was one of about 100 people at the event. He’s been attending Field Days at BYU-Idaho for 20 years and returns each year, because of the information it provides. This year, a study on orchard grass caught his eye.

“I grow hay for horses, and most of my buyers want grass mixed with the hay, but typically grass only grows up until our first cutting because it won’t grow in hot weather,” Ritchie said. “But orchard grass does grow again … and it’d be nice to get a consistent yield of grass and alfalfa at every cutting.”

Some of the projects completed by BYU-Idaho students have potentially far-reaching impacts. The university’s agronomy program includes a number of international students who are learning advanced agricultural practices to take back to their home countries.

Sophomore Daniel Dosanjos of Brazil and freshman Diego Cabezas of Chile are among those students. One of the most impactful parts of their experience at BYU-Idaho has been the opportunity to work with biotech titan Monsanto on crop research. Both men said the company has a very poor reputation in South America.

“This has helped rid us of some misconceptions because we are South Americans,” Cabezas said. “Some in South American believe Monsanto is evil, but working with them, we’ve got to know them and understand their projects. Now we can go back and say that it is not (a) bad company.”