For 27 Auburn University (AU) students, earning college credit looked different this spring.
Farms transformed into classrooms, and farmers became teachers who shared the diversity of the state’s largest industry through the second Alabama Ag Expedition March 8-13, sponsored by the Alabama Wheat & Feed Grain Producers.
“Although the students all study agriculture at AU, some had never stepped onto a farm before, much less experienced a cattle sale or seen a grain elevator,” said Scott Saucer, a Monroe County farmer on the State Wheat & Feed Grain Committee who visited with students during the tour. “It’s rewarding to know our Wheat & Feed Grain Checkoff dollars helped fund an educational trip for future leaders of Alabama agriculture.”
Students earned two college credits for attending the tour. They traveled 1,200 miles in six days with stops at 12 farms. Student groups researched each farm stop and shared information before and after the visit.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to do anything else with my spring break,” said Jasey Black, 20, a Limestone County native and sophomore in agricultural communications.
Black said her favorite stop was Grace Farms in Walker County, which grows poultry, cattle and row crops. Walker County Farmers Federation President Dorman Grace and his sons, Cade and Jud, invited support personnel including ag lenders, Alfa Insurance agents and local U.S. Department of Agriculture staff to interact with students.
“I learned it’s not just a farmer on a tractor that makes farms successful,” Black said. “It’s everyone he or she comes into contact with, the people they feed and every consumer who purchases something they grew.”
Grace said he was impressed by the interest the students showed and the depth of questions they asked.
“Some agriculture students don’t have farming backgrounds, so they don’t really know what they’re going to face in the workforce after graduation,” Grace said. “This tour helped them see what career options are out there by visiting different farms and industries.”
The Alabama Farmers Federation’s Carla Hornady is the Wheat & Feed Grain Division director. She helped coordinate the trip, adding that farmers and other ag partners across the state were eager to participate.
“It’s invaluable for students to realize the knowledge they’ve learned in a classroom can improve lives for farmers and rural Alabamians — the very people they met on this trip,” Hornady said. “Plus, it’s fun to watch their reactions when we visit these farms.”
For example, when Drury Catfish Farms hauled nets full of wriggling catfish out of ponds in Hale County, it was an unfamiliar sight for most students, except senior Bill Taylor.
Taylor was raised on a catfish farm but said the Alabama Ag Expedition highlighted technological advancements — such as Bluetooth oxygen readers on catfish ponds, electronic ID for cattle at Dee River Ranch in Pickens County and wood pellet manufacturing at Pinnacle Renewable Energy in Pickens County.
“There was a lot about agriculture that I thought I knew but didn’t,” said Taylor, 21, who studies agricultural communications. “If you want to be successful in agriculture, this trip will benefit you the rest of your life.”
At the Alabama Farmers Cooperative (AFC) Grain Division in Decatur, students learned the pivotal role the division plays in marketing farmers’ crops to secure the nation’s food supply.
“It’s a great example of how the industry works together and how we use the crops farmers grow to supply end users with things like soybean oil and grain to feed chickens,” said AFC grain merchandiser Jack Segrest. “The Ag Expedition could be one of the best tools students have to determine a career path.”
Food science junior and Idaho native Tyler Stumbo said the tour exceeded expectations, from seeing the largest contiguous field east of the Mississippi River at Dee River Ranch to tours of Cullman County poultry farms conducting research of rainwater collection and solar power.
“You’re looking at a lot of money invested in doing something these farmers love,” Stumbo said.
Dr. Amy Wright, interim assistant dean for instruction at AU’s College of Agriculture, thanked the Wheat & Feed Grain Producers for investing in students who connected with farmers and each other, forming lifelong relationships.
“This trip provides students with such unique opportunities to see a lot of operations they would not normally get to experience in person,” Wright said. “Hopefully, the students were able to see how their discipline relates to others in agriculture and how diverse and dynamic our industry really is. Since I was able to participate in the Ag Expeditions in 2018 and 2020, I know firsthand what an amazing experience this is for our students.”
Other stops included Sirmon Farms, Baldwin County; Rainbow Omega, Calhoun County; Haynes Farms, Cullman County; Sessions Farm Market, Mobile County; and Frisco City Stockyards, Monroe County.