Field Study Yields Multiple Outcomes for BVU Ag Students

Dr. Geoffrey Ecker, Assistant Professor of Agronomy, directs a field study that is part of a three-year USDA/NRCS-funded Conservation Innovation Grant. Ecker works with BVU students to discover how a nitrogen-stabilizing product performs.

Cris Miller, a Buena Vista University senior agronomy major, smiles when thinking about his Crop Sciences class last fall. Heading into a field of corn to take stalk nitrate samples put him in the center of a nationwide study.

“We cut 10 stalks per test row and could witness the differences certain nitrogen stabilizers had on crops, even within one field,” says Miller, whose passion is farming. “An experience like that helps set me up for my future work in agriculture.”

Not only did BVU students help with the corn harvest at the University’s new Agricultural Experiment Station, several ag majors took part in a variety of activities at the site, ranging from livestock care and herdsmanship to field-scale trials that tested the performance of nitrogen stabilizer products from companies such as Corteva, Koch, and Biodyne.

“Agriculture was something I’ve always had a strong interest in, and Dr. Ecker works hard to connect students like me with practices and roles in agriculture, setting me up for a career I know I’ll enjoy once I graduate.”

Cris Miller

The field study was part of a larger data set collected from 54 such trials across eight Midwest states. The local effort, part of a USDA/NRCS-funded Conservation Innovation Grant awarded to Ohio-based Brookside Labs, Inc., was directed by Dr. Geoffrey Ecker, BVU Assistant Professor of Agronomy, who works to merge real-world practices with academic study in his courses.
Ecker’s participation in the three-year grant program bears fruits for both his students and grain producers across the country as agronomists, such as Ecker, seek to discover how a nitrogen-stabilizing product, in this case, Anvol, performs.

“I’ve been working with this program as a research scientist for five years,” says Ecker, who came to BVU and its Institute for Agriculture in the summer of 2020. “We had a grant to run trials and I thought it would be synergistic to expose the trials to this part of Northwest Iowa while giving students the chance to gather data in a federally funded agronomy research project.”

Mike Christen, BVU Land Unit Manager at the Agricultural Experiment Station, incorporated Anvol in a side-dress application to his corn. Some applications featured Anvol, while others did not. Students took samples of corn stalks across the field and sent samples on for elemental analysis.

“Students cut a section from the corn stalk at a specified height, which would then show whether the plant was nitrogen starved or had excess nitrogen,” says Ecker.

Dr. Geoffrey Ecker leads a field study at BVU.

“This is something an agronomist serving a local cooperative might do. The study helps expose our students to a different side of agronomy.”

Ecker and his students seek to learn more about other variables, such as rainfall amounts and how close precipitation occurs to an application date. Ultimately, the study will help growers learn how and how well nitrogen stabilizers perform agronomically.

“We seek to learn if a grower can achieve more yield by actually using less nitrogen,” Ecker says. “And, economically, does a stabilizer enhance growth and yield enough to justify the money spent on it.”

“I’m very grateful to have real-world experiences like this on the BVU farm,” says Miller, who hails from Spencer. “Agriculture was something I’ve always had a strong interest in, and Dr. Ecker works hard to connect students like me with practices and roles in agriculture, setting me up for a career I know I’ll enjoy once I graduate.”

Ecker’s long-term goals involve protecting growers and soil health while researching ways to feed a growing world. Additionally, he’s exposing students to the possibilities of a wealth of careers within the ag industry.

“I’m deliberately marrying real-world work with academic study in the thinking that it’s best for everybody,” he says. “One student turned to me while we were in the field and said, ‘I didn’t ever think of becoming a crop consultant.’

“Some students we will help train to work the land,” Ecker concludes. “Many others will work with the people to work the land. They’ll play the support and the analytical roles, putting into practice the concepts we’re learning here at BVU.”