Justin Sissel and Dr. Mike Burton walked through a golden field on a clear blue autumn day.
“Look at this crop of beans,” Burton said. “They are chest-high!”
It was October 2017 at the Kindrick Family Farm at Missouri State University, a parcel of land south of the Springfield-Branson National Airport.
The land was given to the William H. Darr College of Agriculture in spring 2017 by the Rev. Dr. Paula Kindrick Hartsfield, a 1976 alumna, and her husband, George.
Burton, a professor in the environmental plant science and natural resources department, and Sissel, the farm operations manager, were admiring a crop that had been planted in early summer.
This gift means that, for the first time, MSU’s College of Agriculture has land dedicated to row crops. This fills a huge need for the college.
Sissel is an ’04 alumnus with a bachelor’s degree in animal science. Though he has worked in MSU agriculture for more than 10 years, he said the farm “has been a learning experience for everyone, even me.”
There have been hands-on opportunities for all involved.
In fact, he said, “most of the planting and spraying work was done by students.”
Sissel and Burton predicted that the results of the first harvest would be good because the land had fertile soil, and rain had been on their side last summer. A large harvest means a profit — and that’s money that can be reinvested in Missouri State, the College of Agriculture and the Kindrick Family Farm.
So, how good was the harvest?
On Dec. 14, 2017, it was time to find out.
A Gleaner R7 combine harvester rumbled in the field. MSU hired an independent contractor to run it, since the university doesn’t own a combine.
A group of faculty, alumni, graduate students and undergraduate students were gathered to witness the university’s first-ever soybean harvest at the Kindrick Family Farm.
“We’re getting along pretty well,” Burton said as soybeans were transferred from the combine into a “weigh wagon.”
The scale on this machine helped the team determine their yield per acre.
MSU students were gathered around the wagon.
“We’re taking samples for weight, and looking to see if there are any pink or purple spots,” said Jordan Gott, a graduate student in agriculture. Pink or purple spots could indicate disease.
“But black spots are normal and indicate maturity,” said Scott McElveen, also a graduate student.
So far, all the varieties were looking good.
A few minutes later, Burton took Gott, McElveen and fellow graduate student Chris Groh into a part of the field that had already been harvested.
Burton wanted them to take soil samples to see if MSU would need to “amend” the soil with lime or fertilizer in anticipation of the next crop. Soil amendments help improve plant growth and health.
“Go straight into the ground,” Burton said to Gott as she was stomping on a “footstep probe soil sampler,” a cylindrical metal tool with a hollow middle.
How it works: You shove the probe into the ground by stepping on it, and the hollow core fills with soil. The students would need to get pretty far into the ground to get enough soil.
For Gott, this wasn’t just an academic exercise. Her career goal is to help people in developing nations sustain their land for food production. Her time spent learning how to sample soil may someday translate to a better world.
Groh, who is in the master’s in plant science program, is also interested in international agriculture development, and has been to Europe and Turkey.
His review of the farm: “It’s a great place to apply what we have learned in class. Now, we get to be out here and actually do it.”
First harvest results in good yield
When all the soybeans were taken out of the field, they were transported to a grain-holding facility.
They were sold to a local exchange, a commodities broker for agriculture products.
They may become soy oil or soy meal.
In late October, Burton’s undergraduate students had estimated the farm would produce about 70 bushels of beans per acre.
“That was a bit optimistic! I ended up questioning the students about how their estimates would be biased if they selected ‘big’ plants rather than ‘random’ plants.”
After the December harvest, they actually ranged from about 60 to 65 bushels per acre. Any gross income from this good yield would be reinvested in the College of Agriculture.
Now, it’s spring.
Sissel and Burton will be walking in green fields, not golden, at this time of year.
All of the grain crops they plant at the farm are annuals. That means they’ll reseed each year. They planned to put soybeans on most of the farm again in 2018. After that, their options are open.
They will rotate crops to keep the land healthy and provide diverse educational and research opportunities.
“We could do corn in the future,” Burton said. “We could possibly put in wheat, or we may plant oat, canola, sorghum or rye.”
He’s excited to make plans for the Kindrick Family Farm.
“It’s an amazing gift that allows us to do things we could not before, on a scale we could not imagine before.”