It has been written, “The ultimate goal of farming is not the growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of a human being.” At ABAC, that is the goal for one alumni.
After completing his curriculum here at ABAC, Trey Davis moved on to receive his undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia. From there, he moved into the agriculture business world, garnering knowledge and experience until an opportunity as farm manager opened.
It seems like fate had other plans for Davis and brought him back to his alma mater. Yet to him this isn’t just a typical farm job. The ABAC farm shares many characteristics with typical farms: crops are planted, grown, and harvested, and livestock is maintained and cared for.
However, what makes the farm stand apart at ABAC isn’t what you can see with the naked eye. It’s what lies beneath the surface.
Named after J.G. Woodroof, ABAC’s first president in 1933, the ABAC farm consists of 200 acres of farmland, livestock pasture and natural resource management areas. Each foot of these 200 acres is open to the students. Many universities tend to base their program around the science of agriculture, but what sets the school of agriculture at ABAC apart from others is the hands-on experience students receive.
Pursing the diversified agriculture degree preps the student in the classroom with courses such as insect and weed management, precision agriculture and animal sciences. Many occasions, a course instructor may choose to teach courses at the farm, applying the lecture in real-time, helping solidify the material being taught. It all comes together during the farm operations course.
This course, taken near the end of the student’s time here, requires the students to work six hours per week on the farm and allows them to apply everything they have learned. It challenges them to efficiently operate a modern farm.
From operating farm machinery to planting and harvesting the cultivars, students find something valuable. It is the farm’s unique approach to educating the students that sets it apart and boosts
The School of Agriculture and Natural Resources has reached enrollment of more than 1,000 students.
Unlike a majority of agricultural colleges, that incorporate plot-style research farming, ABAC operates as a production farm. Research farming is managed on a very small scale and a lot of times worked by hand. Before planting, the land is measured and laid out in small plots, sometimes as small as 10 feet long. Pesticides are measured by the milliliter and added to a set volume of water.
In all, each and every action carried out by researcher farming is measured and recorded. This allows researchers more control and observation over the cultivar being tested.
The Department of Agriculture and corporate seed companies practice research farming when producing new varieties of crops. A production farm is your typical farm-planting one crop across many acres at once. While some students working on the farm may venture into different agricultural endeavors, they each will be imparted with knowledge on how a production farm works.
“The way we operate at the ABAC farm mirrors your typical production operation found across the country,” said Davis. “What students learn at the farm provides them the insight and knowledge in applying their skills to the modern-day farm, if that’s what they wish to do.”
While the ABAC Farm operates using production-style techniques, it shares a small corner of land that offers a look into research farming. Though the 200 acres of land are owned by ABAC, not all are managed by the college. ABAC leases 10 acres of land to one of the world’s leading companies in crop science innovation, Bayer CropScience. For those unfamiliar with the name, simply look for the aspirin bottle in your medicine cabinet.
Davis characterized ABAC and Bayer as a symbiotic relationship, sharing knowledge and equipment. The team at Bayer carries out its work through research plots. Testing new chemicals and pest management techniques is the main focus for the ag giant.
Research trials they conduct may someday lead to innovations that could make their way onto farms all over the world. These innovations could eventually become a staple in mainstream farming operations.
Through these research trials America has remained one of the top agricultural countries on Earth, exporting commodities all over the world. Exposing students to Bayer and its research system allows students the opportunity to glimpse what corporate research is and how it may be something they are interested in pursuing post-graduation. Diversity on the farm such as this propels it forward and allows ABAC to remain as one of the top agriculture schools in the South.
Just as a student changes classes every semester, so too does the ABAC farm. Every semester differs from the last.
“We touch on each aspect of what you would get during a production year, from planning the upcoming season all the way to harvest,” said Davis. The farm’s course curriculum follows the seasons, just as any farm; spring semester is a time for planning and planting.
Equipment is being prepped for the upcoming season, tractors are in the field plowing land, and nutrients are placed back into soil for this year’s crop. The seeds are sown and the summer semester begins. Summer has the farm maintaining that seed. From proper chemical application, crop scouting, and irrigation scheduling, students apply skills they learned in the classroom to the day-to-day operations.
The work and time everyone contributed all comes to a highpoint during the fall semester harvest time. In some ways, one could say this is where the life of the crop really begins.
Once harvested, it is shipped off to its respective production facility and converted into a readily used form. Food, clothing, and other resources; each crop has a part to play in the grander scheme of life.
Students gain an understanding of commodity markets and where that crop goes post-harvest. The money received is then directly put back into the farm for future use. It all keeps the farm and its employees busy, but it’s nothing a group of determined individuals cannot handle. As the old saying goes “It takes a village to raise a child” or, in this case, operate a farm.
“I couldn’t do it alone. If it wasn’t for the group of great people working to keep the farm going I don’t know what I’d do,” said Davis. “The fine work from Shawn Cox, Jimmy Felton, Doug Hicks, Gerald Fowler, Ray Lundy, and my student employees make my job a lot less stressful.”
Photo by Wesley PopeHowever, Trey and his group of employees aren’t the only ones who keep the ABAC Farm operating smoothly. A majority of the workers are the students. Agriculture is a way of life in the South. You would be hard pressed to find someone who has not driven a tractor or at least worked on farm at some point in his or her life.
Yet those less experienced people do exist on campus. Students may have grown up with no agriculture in their lives yet took an interest in it later on. In other cases, the family of these students may have farmed when they were growing up but got out of it in their older years.
During the transition from the “small-farm” era to the “large-farm” era, many families had to stop farming and look toward higher income jobs. In a region where tradition is highly valued, the concept of passing agriculture down to children ceased to exist. It’s for reasons such as these the ABAC farm exists.
Students with experience aid in helping non-experienced students learn the ebb and flow of working on a farm. Driving tractors, using implements effectively and safely are all important fundamentals students must learn. Blending knowledge learned at home with that learned in the classroom, it’s the students who are now the instructors. It is something I believe any instructor would be proud to have a part in. But tradition can only carry us so far in agriculture and, as Bob Dylan once sang, “The times they are a-changin”.
With precision ag, or satellite farming, becoming a prominent figure in agriculture today, the ABAC farm strives to remain ahead of the curve. New tractors and irrigation pivots, all equipped with GPS technology, expose students to the equipment they’ll use, or equipment their customers will use.
It’s important for students to know what lies ahead and to stay one step ahead of the competition, even if that competition is someone applying for the job they want. With the inclusion of GPS equipped machinery, students can have an edge on what to expect and how to operate it. Yet even with precision ag being incorporated into the farm, it is not without its obstacles. Today’s world operates at a lightning pace with new technology being conceived every day. Phones and laptops are constantly being updated and the Precision Ag area is no exception.
“We get a lot of support from our local businesses. Lasseter Tractor, AIMTRAC, Atlantic & Southern, and many others have all lent their support to us and allowed the farm to stay on the threshold of precision agriculture,” said Davis. With precision ag providing crop students new methods of farming, the farm also offers opportunities for students who prefer a career in the livestock area.
Crops are not the only endeavors at the ABAC farm. Directly off Moore Highway sits ABAC’s unit. Doug Hicks, supervisor at the beef unit, has been managing the beef unit over 11 years. Hicks said he believes the concept of the beef unit has roots running back to the early days of ABAC. During this time the grounds were used to keep cattle and chickens.
These, in turn, were slaughtered and used for food at the dining hall. The Beef Unit operates on 60 acres of pasture coupled with 60 acres of hay. It also consists of over one hundred head of cattle; all crossbreeds using Angus bloodline.
Students looking to pursue the animal science tract of their degree can fully utilize the beef unit. Students are employed or may volunteer to put in time at the unit. Hicks feels what sets the beef unit apart is the amount of hands-on time students are able to receive. The beef unit retains enough cattle for students to have the opportunity to engage them.
“It’s not just a class of students gathered around one or two cows. They’re not standing back watching. We keep enough cattle at the unit so that each student has the opportunity to gain experience,” said Hicks.
Just as the crop side of the ABAC Farm stays on the cutting edge technology, the beef unit strives to do the same.
A new facility was built two years ago allowing top of the line pins and lighting. This enables safe and effective handling practices, a must when working with livestock. On top of this, a new hydraulic chute was recently purchased by the college. Using donations from industry businesses and individual donations, the chute offers students an identical experience to what they would have in a modern day livestock operation.
“I believe we are a very unique operation in this day and time. Even though students are receiving a four-year degree, they are also receiving a great amount of experience,” said Hicks. “We have producers and companies contacting us regularly wanting our students.”
Though agriculture may be one of history’s oldest profession, the ABAC farm is preparing its students for the future. Trey and the group of farm employees work hard to deepen and encourage the students’ understanding by offering a variety of learning experiences, both rooted deep in tradition and on the cutting-edge of technology.
With such a diversified offering, for crop and animal science students, those who pass through the gates at the ABAC farm can boldly and confidently say they are prepared for the next step in propelling a global industry leader, agriculture.