Farm Progress

From gridiron to grid sampling

SEMO football player balances sports, college to pursue career in agriculture.

Mindy Ward

October 25, 2018

5 Min Read
IN THE FIELD: Whether Bud Hilburn is on the football field or in farm fields, he is working. The Southeast Missouri State University student is completing cover crop research when he is not tackling opponents.Southeast Missouri State University Marketing

Redhawks senior tight end and scholar athlete Bud Hilburn is taking advantage of all the opportunities — both academic and athletic — Southeast Missouri State University has to offer.

With football season in full swing, his schedule is jam-packed with games, practices, conditioning and other team responsibilities. But off the gridiron, he’s making the most of his experience as a student-athlete, tackling academic agricultural research at the David M. Barton Agriculture Research Center.

He’s part of a student research team working to determine how cover crops can help manage soil health. Keeping and replenishing nutrients in the soil is vital for farmers across the nation. One way to address this challenge is to make good use of cover crops.

The Kennett, Mo., native majoring in agribusiness, plant and soil science option, is participating in cover crop research as part of a USDA grant-funded four-year project in collaboration with Southeast’s Department of Agriculture, Arkansas State University and the University of Tennessee-Martin.

Research focus
The student research team helps to establish experimental plots, collect plant and soil samples, and record data. To provide quality control, samples are sent to an approved third-party lab for analysis. Hilburn spent the summer in Cape Girardeau engaged in the research, which he is continuing this fall.

He works under the guidance of Dr. Indi Braden, Southeast professor of agriculture. The samples Hilburn collects are important in determining which species of cover crops are best adapted to the region for use in enhancing sustainability in crop production systems.

"Having cover crops in between your primary, cash crops can help build organic matter and nutrients in the soil," Hilburn says. "The research looks at different cover crops and how they’re affecting and promoting soil health in this region."

The overall goal is to help provide producers with recommendations of the cover crop species that are best adapted to this area, Braden adds.

Down and dirty
One of the highlights of Hilburn’s work is getting to help process the plant and soil samples he collects with experts in the lab.

"It was really interesting to see how they test my samples in the lab," says Hilburn, who got to assist in the testing process a couple of times with Dr. David Dunn of the University of Missouri Soil Testing Laboratory. "It’s a lot more in-depth process than I realized. There’s actually a lot of chemistry involved to break down what is going on in each sample. You have to mix different chemicals and use specific equipment for different tests. It was really great to learn about what goes on in the lab."

This fall, along with continuing to collect plant and soil samples, Hilburn will help plant cover crop plots of cereal rye, wheat, oats, crimson clover, hairy vetch and various brassicas before the winter season. Testing from this plant season will help continue to find specific results and data for this region.

"The main cover crop in the region is winter wheat, which is readily available and is synonymous with cover crops," Braden says. "However, there are dozens of cover crop species that can be grown for very specific functions. Yet, the majority of the research on cover crops comes from areas to the north where the climate and soils are quite different."

SAMPLING THE CROP: Indi Braden (center) instructs students like Bud Hilburn (right) on soil sampling of cover crop fields.

Being a part of this research and having an active role on the Barton Farm has been a rewarding experience for Hilburn.

"I’m definitely a hands-on learner and working in the field has been a good experience," he says. "It’s been really great to be a part of something outside the classroom."

The results of this research will be a great asset to area conservationists, consultants and producers as they work as a team to enhance the sustainability of the agricultural enterprise in the local area.

"The return farmers can get from good soil health and using the right cover crops can pay dividends in the long term," Hilburn says.

Balancing act
To Southeast Missouri State football coach Tom Matukewicz, Hilburn represents what this collaboration is all about. "He is a local student that came to Southeast Missouri State University to be a part of the agribusiness and football programs," Matukewicz says. "He loves this institution and will be super successful with this special opportunity. Bud is a great representative of our university and football program, and I’m thankful for the opportunities Southeast affords our student-athletes to be students first and athletes second."

Managing the demands of the classroom, this project and football have been a challenge, but Hilburn says his hard work and dedication are paying dividends for him.

"You just got to do it," he says. "Dr. Braden has been willing to work with my schedule and give me this opportunity. My classes come first, and then it’s just about managing my life and doing whatever it takes to get things done."

Being a part of the research team has also positively affected Hilburn's academic goals. "It’s brought a lot more structure and discipline to my academic life," he says. "I’ve learned a lot that I can use beyond the football field and in the real world."

In this final year of the project, Braden, Hilburn and other students will continue to research plots and compile and evaluate the data for all three states collaborating as part of this project.

Hilburn, who expects to graduate from Southeast in December 2019, hopes to take what he’s learned in the research field and on the football field back to share with his hometown and local farmers.

Source: Southeast Missouri State University Communications

About the Author(s)

Mindy Ward

Editor, Missouri Ruralist

Mindy resides on a small farm just outside of Holstein, Mo, about 80 miles southwest of St. Louis.

After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism, she worked briefly at a public relations firm in Kansas City. Her husband’s career led the couple north to Minnesota.

There, she reported on large-scale production of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and dairy, as well as, biofuels for The Land. After 10 years, the couple returned to Missouri and she began covering agriculture in the Show-Me State.

“In all my 15 years of writing about agriculture, I have found some of the most progressive thinkers are farmers,” she says. “They are constantly searching for ways to do more with less, improve their land and leave their legacy to the next generation.”

Mindy and her husband, Stacy, together with their daughters, Elisa and Cassidy, operate Showtime Farms in southern Warren County. The family spends a great deal of time caring for and showing Dorset, Oxford and crossbred sheep.

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