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Finding a Place in Ag

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Growing up, agriculture was symbolized by cattle, the hard work of my grandparents and the wide open spaces of northwestern Colorado. Today, as a Lloyd Noble Scholar in Agriculture, agriculture is being presented on a much larger scope and with a deeper significance that is no longer limited to just cattle.

cow in field

In my first week here, I encountered three unique projects that speak to the diverse interests and expertise of individuals at the Noble Research Institute. I found some familiarity moving cattle from paddock to paddock in the mob grazing project, but learning how to use a rising plate meter for forage measurements after grazing was a completely new concept.

The next day, I saw a pecan tree for the first time in my life and learned how to collect leaf samples, which will be analyzed to determine the nutritional content and deficiencies of the trees. The third project, quail calls at the Oswalt Ranch, underscores the importance of wildlife research and the implications that a precarious bobwhite quail population could have on agricultural producers and land stewards.

quail calls

The thorough research at Noble is not only redefining what agriculture means to me, but it is also helping to strengthen the foundation needed for a future career in the field. Having just graduated with a degree in economics, I am looking forward to using the practical experience I'm gaining from the Noble Research Institute to pursue a master's degree in agricultural economics in the near future.

Even though the projects aren't directly linked to economics research, I have still been able to consider potential financial implications. For mob grazing, I wonder if the practice is truly economically efficient. What about labor and time inputs? How can we quantify the opportunity cost?

The pecan orchard requires substantial pruning and harvesting labor inputs as well as costs associated with improving tree nutrition and yield. Would these inputs nullify any potential for profit? Also, what scale of pecan orchard makes equipment investment worthwhile?

Considering if the quail population became endangered, what are the economic costs associated with regulations to protect the species? How could this impact the other enterprises such as grazing and hunting that depend on the same land resources?

Economics is useful throughout agriculture, and there are not only various projects for application at the Noble Research Institute, but also the opportunity to work with current data alongside the agricultural economists in order to learn through practice and application.

In my first week alone, I have been astounded by the outpouring of support from the consultants and staff who are helping me to define my own place in agriculture. As economics projects begin to form, I hope to continue merging my ranching background with my economics education in the context of consultations and the research to come over the summer.

Anna Stehle is a 2013 Lloyd Noble Scholar in Agriculture. Originally from Denver, she has also grown up around her family's cattle ranch in Meeker, Colo.