A major in agricultural engineering from UAPB completes an internship at the Institute of Soil Health

Will hehemann | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Humanities

Brent Thomas, a junior specializing in agricultural engineering at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, recently completed an internship at the Soil Health Institute. He was one of three trainees selected to join the non-profit association responsible for safeguarding and improving the vitality and productivity of soils.

During his internship, Thomas gained experience both in the field and in the laboratory, taking soil samples and analyzing soil properties. He worked closely with two scientists, Dr Nate Looker and Dr Vance Almquist, on a project to determine the performance of no-till and cover crops as soil conservation strategies.

“It was a really fun camp,” said Thomas. “I have met a lot of people and worked with some great guys. We took soil samples from different farms in the Delta and compared them according to different soil management practices. “

Thomas said he learned a lot about the value of no-till and cover crops. He said these are examples of sustainable practices that the Soil Health Institute tries to present to farmers that will benefit both their operations and the environment.

“I think in the south the farmers think they have to plow the soil because they grew up planting crops that way,” he said. “However, plowing actually destroys the structure of the soil. Stopping or reducing tillage will save your land in the long run. This practice can ensure good soil moisture and prevent erosion. Planting without or minimum tillage is also better for the environment, as tillage burns fuel.

With the knowledge he gained from the internship, Thomas now plans to develop a senior project to help farmers in the Delta region implement no-till or minimum-tillage practices.

As part of the internship, the Soil Health Institute organized a “internship week” during which all interns were able to travel to the organization’s headquarters in Morrisville, North Carolina.

“They really took care of us and introduced us to other companies like BASF, Cotton Incorporated and Pairwise,” Thomas said. “I had the opportunity to meet everyone in person and see them interact with other companies on a professional level.”

Dr Blessing Masasi, assistant professor of agricultural engineering at UAPB and adviser to Thomas, said the internship experiences with the Soil Health Institute have been fruitful and will be useful in Thomas’ career.

“His internship opened the door for more UAPB Agriculture Department students to get similar opportunities at the Soil Health Institute,” he said.

Thomas was one of the first three UAPB students to major in the Agricultural Engineering program when it was made available in 2019. He originally majored in Plant and Soil Sciences , but in his second year, a classmate told him about the new program. Agricultural engineering drew on his interests and experience working on agricultural machinery.

“I grew up on a farm watching my father and uncle working the fields and working on farm machinery,” he said. “My brother and I started gardening when I was five and he was 11.”

From childhood, Thomas continued to farm on his land in Grady, Arkansas. He enjoys the chance to get out on the land and tinker with and improve his farm machinery.

“Lately I’ve been welding and creating my own tractor tools,” he said. “I had a problem with the weeds, so I made a small cultivator to help with the weeds. I also created a row hipper for the raised rows.

Thomas said his parents encouraged him to go to college and he was grateful for their support.

“After I graduate, all I want to do is cultivate,” he said. “It’s been my dream job since I was a kid.

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers all of its extension and research programs and services regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion , age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information or any other status protected by law, and is an affirmative action / equal opportunity employer.

Amalia H. Mercado