Retired Mississippi State University Research Agronomist Wayne Ebelhar, Stoneville, Miss., received the 2021 Outstanding Research Award in Cotton Agronomy at the 2021 virtual Beltwide Cotton Conferences, Jan. 7.
"I can think of few people more deserving of this award," said Daryl Chastain, assistant research professor and cotton systems agronomist, Delta Research and Extension Center (DREC), MSU, as he announced Ebelhar as the winner during the Agronomy, Physiology and Soils Conference Awards webinar.
2021 Outstanding Research Award in Cotton Agronomy Wayne Ebelhar. (Photo by Kenner Patton, DREC, MSU)
Chastain noted Ebelhar's 40 years of service in applied soil fertility crop production research involving cotton, corn, soybeans, rice, wheat, sunflowers, bioenergy crops and medicinal plants and herbs.
"His work at the Delta Research Extension Center, as well as in producers’ fields, contributed more to his field than could possibly be listed," Chastain said. "His program has focused on cultural practices and nutrient management strategies for optimizing yields and proper profitability for producer clientele in the Mississippi Delta. As part of a team of diverse researchers, the emphasis was placed on factors directly related to farm operations in this region."
Chastain, who calls Ebelhar a mentor and friend, praised him for helping the research community, whether judging or coordinating conference responsibilities or working directly with students, "even to the point of coaching them on presentation style," he added.
Chastain also called Ebelhar a "valuable community leader," serving his church, Lions Club, and Habitat for Humanity.
"I certainly appreciate this," Ebelhar said during his virtual acceptance speech.
He thanked the nomination committee and those who submitted letters of support on his behalf. "I'm humbled by the recommendation," he said.
Ebelhar thanked his support staff, including the farm operations crew, the business office and fellow scientists. "I want to say a special thanks to my support staff. I've told administration for years, if I don't have support staff, you don't need me."
He said they work as a team. "The teamwork approach is by far the best way to go," he added.
Ebelhar started his research in Stoneville. "I was a farm boy from Western Kentucky who grew up with tobacco, corn, soybeans, wheat, hay and cows. I never thought about being a research scientist. I actually tried to hide in a tobacco field because I hated suckering tobacco. I was probably less than 10 years old."
After earning his bachelor's and master's degrees in agronomy and agriculture from the University of Kentucky and his doctorate in agronomy from the University of Illinois, Ebelhar came to Mississippi to work on cotton and rice.
"I had seen rice on the shelf and eaten it with butter, sugar and cinnamon, and I wore cotton underwear -- that's as close as I'd gotten to cotton. So, the first cotton crop I ever saw, I grew. That was 40 years ago."
Ebelhar retired from MSU in June 2020. "I've had a great opportunity to work with farmers. I've never been at a place that's more supportive of research and of what's going on in the area and with the producers in the Mississippi Delta," he said.
Ebelhar acknowledged Cotton Incorporated and the National Cotton Council for their continued efforts for cotton around the world.
Of all he's achieved throughout his career, he said none of it would be possible without a love for agriculture.
"Who knew that one day, a little kid trying to hide in the tobacco patch would go out of the community, attend college and work for the very industry that all of us know? It was a great time, and I wish the very best to those who follow."
Several colleagues praised Ebelhar in support letters.
John Snider, associate professor, Crop and Soil Sciences Department, University of Georgia, praised Ebelhar for his emphasis on soil fertility in cotton production systems.
"I doubt there are any agronomists in the Cotton Belt who are unaware of the research that Dr. Ebelhar does," Snider wrote. "Furthermore, during his career, Dr. Ebelhar has disseminated information in the form of hundreds of articles targeted at producers and consultants, numerous peer-reviewed journal articles, and extensive presentations at state, regional and national scales. One of the most notable things about Dr. Ebelhar is that he is more involved in professional service than most researchers I have ever met."
Ebelhar has published 26 technical papers, refereed; 87 technical papers, non-refereed; and 437 other related oral, written, visual presentations or products.
Jason Bond, research and Extension professor, DREC, MSU, praised Ebelhar for his establishment of the Centennial Rotation in 2004, which has gained "national reputation and been the basis for Plant Management Network webinars and numerous presentations with the data being used by different groups for economic considerations and risk management."
Bond also noted the numerous awards Ebelhar has received throughout his career, including the 2018 Researcher of the Year by the Delta Council and the Cotton Researcher of the Year by the National Conservation Systems Cotton and Rice Conference.
"Dr. Ebelhar has always practiced what he preaches and has been active in the community and church for most of his career," Bond wrote. "He has been recognized many times for his efforts. His strong support of community, and his belief in being part of the community, make him a great spokesperson for MSU and the agricultural industry."
Steven Martin, associate director and interim head, DREC, MSU, described Ebelhar as an outstanding employee and colleague. "He makes those around him better. He is the perfect example of a selfless, dedicated, public servant."
Snider agreed. "He is one of the more amiable people I know and is always more than happy to provide advice to young researchers like myself. If you ever get a chance to sit down and talk with Dr. Ebelhar about cotton, you'll learn a lot. Just plan to sit awhile."
The Outstanding Research Award in Cotton Agronomy, sponsored by BASF, was announced along with the 2021 Dr. J. Tom Cothren Outstanding Young Cotton Physiologist Award presented to Murilo Maeda, assistant professor, and Extension cotton specialist, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. The Dr. J. Tom Cothren award is sponsored by PhytoGen.