Land & Environment

USU Students Earn Awards at International Agronomy, Crop and Soils Conference

By Ysabel Nehring |

Experimental plots grow at the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station's Greenville Research Farm in North Logan.

The American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America and the Soil Science Society of America hosted an international scientific conference in Salt Lake City in November 2021 that brought together established and emerging voices from industry, government and academia. Seven Utah State University student researchers, including one undergraduate, two master’s degree and four doctoral students, won awards for their presentations.

Paul Johnson, head of USU’s Department of Plants, Soils and Climate Department, described the event as one of the most important conferences for USU students to present research and network with other scientists.

"This conference is a wonderful opportunity for students to practice sharing their research with the attendees and the greater agronomic scientific community," Johnson said. "They meet people from other universities and industry, which can lead to the next chapter of their career. These conferences can lead to lifelong friendships, too."

The presentations included oral presentations and posters, with many of the projects representing the culmination of more than a year of research and preparation. Professors from the USU Plants, Soils, and Climate Department advised students in their research and helped them refine posters and presentation skills.

Megan Getz, a doctoral student in plant science with an emphasis in breeding and genetics, received first place in the Forage and Grazinglands Division and third place in the 2021 CSSA Society-Wide Student Competition for her presentation, “Genetic Association within a Late Flowering, Forage Orchardgrass Population."

"Between catching up with old friends, increasing my professional network, and catching up on all the new research, it’s really hard for me to choose my favorite part of the conference," Getz said. "It's a great place to grow comfortable sharing your research, and it has really opened my eyes to how big the field of study is and new potential career paths."

Noah Langenfeld, who is in his second year as a plant science doctoral student, had the top poster and oral flash talk in the CSSA’s Crop Physiology and Metabolism Division. Langenfeld's research focused on managing nutrient solutions to improve crop water use and decrease excess fertilization.

"I really enjoyed meeting people from around the country with different interests than mine," Langenfeld said. "These interactions raised great questions and helped me think about my research from different perspectives. Everyone at the conference is there to learn from you, not judge your capabilities."

Melanie Mills, an undergraduate student in biological engineering, took third place in the Soil Physics and Hydrology Division’s combined five-minute oral and poster competition. Mills' presentation, titled "Characterizing Physical Properties of Novel Soilless Media for Reduced Gravity Applications," featured research into the water retention capabilities of materials for use as plant-growth media in reduced-gravity environments.

Another doctoral student, Chihiro Naruke, was the fourth-place winner in the Soil Physics and Hydrology Division’s combined five-minute oral and poster competition. Her presentation was entitled "Plant Growth in Candidate Media for Reduced Gravity Applications" and also explored the use of alternative plant growth media in space.

Ryan Hodges, a third-year doctoral student studying soil science, won the first-place prize for his poster in the Pedology Division for the SSSA. His presentation, "Predicting the Extent of Andic Soils Across Western Haleakala, Maui,” focused on using publicly available climate and soil data to predict soil fertility across the island of Maui.

"This conference helps make you visible, helps with public speaking in front of interested and thoughtful researchers, and may open future opportunities for graduate school, employment and collaboration with talented people," Hodges said. "Relationships are important, including academic ones."

Eli Oliver, a master's student at USU, took third place in the student oral competition in the Urban and Anthropogenic Soils Division.

Justin Deakin, who is also pursuing a master’s, took fifth place in the Soil Fertility and Nutrient Management and Soil and Plant Analysis Divisions. Deakin presented on the use of zinc oxide nanoparticles to mitigate drought stress in wheat.

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