April 25, 2018
By Debra Davis
Parnell Inc.'s Joseph Parnell (red helmet) discusses timber harvest with students at a logging site near Maplesville.
Twenty-eight Auburn University (AU) students spent their spring break discovering the state’s agricultural diversity, thanks to the Alabama Wheat & Feed Grain Producers and AU’s College of Agriculture.
The Alabama Ag Expedition covered nearly 1,300 miles in six days from March 11-16. It included 19 stops at farms and agricultural industries from the Tennessee Valley to the Gulf of Mexico. Students learned about row crops, catfish, cattle, poultry, horticulture, forestry, agritourism and trade.
“Agriculture is Alabama’s largest industry, with an over $70 billion economic impact. We wanted to show students the diversity of our state,” said Alabama Wheat & Feed Grain Committee Chair Scott Saucer of Monroe County. “Our hope is this trip familiarized students with on-farm production and related industries and encouraged them to seek career paths in our state. The opportunities in agriculture are endless, whether you want to farm, work for an ag lender or educate others through Extension and ag education.”
That mission was accomplished, according to Alysa Gauci of Foley, a junior majoring in biosystems engineering and sustainability studies.
“I’ve always been really passionate about agriculture and wanted to explore different areas of ag throughout our state,” she said. “This trip was surprising, honestly. Seeing how much agricultural diversity we have in our state was amazing. I can’t put into words how thankful I am for this experience. I had the opportunity to meet so many people around our state and so many great farmers who were willing to answer all of our questions.”
Jake Patterson of New Market is a senior majoring in agronomy and soils. He called the trip an eye-opening venture.
“All too often we get in a comfort zone of what we know or think we know,” he said. “Seeing so many different types of farming and agricultural industries was a fantastic opportunity. It was interesting to see how people in different areas of the state farm — some of it’s very different depending on where we were. We don’t have many poultry farms in my area of the state, and we certainly don’t have catfish farms. I’ve also made a lot of new friends on the trip, and I made professional contacts that I wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Dr. Amy Wright, the College of Agriculture’s associate dean for instruction, described the trip as an outstanding educational opportunity that wouldn’t have been possible without the farmers who funded it.
“The trip was invaluable,” Wright said, “not just because of what they learned about Alabama agriculture, but the relationships they built with each other and farmers and industry leaders they met. After every stop, the students continued to have conversations among themselves discussing what they saw. It was a fast-paced, intense trip, but they stayed engaged throughout the week with lots of questions and comments.”
The Alabama Farmers Federation’s Carla Hornady echoed Wright’s sentiments, saying the weeklong tour was a worthwhile investment in Alabama agriculture.
“Our farmers realize many students don’t have a farm background but still want to pursue degrees in agriculture,” said Hornady, the Federation’s Cotton, Soybean and Wheat & Feed Grain divisions director. “We certainly want to encourage those pursuits and encourage those students to seek careers in Alabama.”
Students earned a spot on the tour by applying through AU College of Agriculture advisers. In preparation for the trip, students compiled information about the farms and industries they would visit.
Following the tour, attendees presented to fellow AU students and other groups about what they learned. Students also earned course credit through AU by attending the expedition.
For photos of the tour, visit the Federation’s Facebook page or Flickr page and look for Alabama Ag Expo ’18.