Oak trees draped with Spanish moss, thick saw palmetto brush, orange groves, and big-eared cattle. This is where I come from: Florida. That's right, folks; the Sunshine State is not just beaches and Disney World.
As I made my drive to Ardmore, Oklahoma, to spend my summer as a Lloyd Noble Scholar in Agriculture at the Noble Research Institute, it became clear that I wasn't in Florida anymore. I was welcomed by huge ranches filled with native grasses, tons of horses and cattle, and more trees than I expected. It was a whole different world.
Since Day 1, everyone here at the Noble Research Institute has been welcoming and encouraging. I started off the summer more than 1,200 miles away from home, not knowing a single soul in Oklahoma. I am completing my final week at Noble with eight great new friends and countless mentors and contacts. This summer has gone by in the blink of an eye. With only one week left, I want to reflect on this amazing opportunity.
The 2017 Lloyd Noble Scholars in Agriculture: (from left) Shelby Crockett, Barrett Moore, Allie Williams, Samantha Beard, Megan Devuyst, Samantha Howe, Megan Prokop and Cody Dean.
At the beginning of the summer, we were paired with a mentor and assigned projects to work on throughout our time at the Noble Research Institute. I met with the different agricultural consultants to introduce myself, and I received one common piece of advice: "This summer is what you make it." I have found this to be true as I near the end of my summer. We have had countless opportunities to step out of our comfort zone and learn new things, from processing wild hogs to conducting a prescribed burn to traveling to Washington, D.C., to talk ag policy. I never thought that I would gain experiences like these this summer. A professor at my school always says, "If there is a bus in the parking lot, you better be on it." In other words, don't miss out on any opportunity presented to you, even if that means having to step up and ask to participate. Living by these words of wisdom has led me to so many great experiences throughout this summer.
Barrett Moore, Samantha Beard and Allie Williams traveled to Washington, D.C., to learn about agricultural policy.
During the first half of the summer, I worked on a high-stock-density grazing project with my fellow scholar, Megan Prokop. We learned about grazing management and how to identify the different native grasses. This type of grazing management tool results in improved soil health and biodiversity of plants. We set up electric fence and moved steers to a new paddock about twice a day. It did not take long for the steers to learn that they would soon be moving to the next paddock. So when they grazed the plants that appealed to them, they would be at the fence ready to move when we walked up. We were lucky to have 14 steers with good dispositions. This was a new task to both Megan and me, and we definitely faced our share of challenges.
Some of the things I've learned over these six weeks:
As we carried the fence posts and reels through the paddocks each day, we joked about how this was "the summer of moving electric fence." I loved being outside every day working with the steers, but I can't say that I will miss moving electric fence every day.
Megan Prokop (left) and Allie Williams spent their "summer of moving electric fence" as a result of a high-stock-density grazing project.
One of the many great things about the scholar program is the chance to participate in various activities outside your knowledge base. If you don't know what chiggers are, consider yourself lucky. One of our tasks this summer was to take browse samples at one of the Noble Research Institute ranches for nutrient analysis. This involved walking through tick- and chigger-infested areas to pick the leaves of specific plants. After we all basically bathed in bug spray, we would tackle the sampling and always ended the day laughing and joking around. It was neat to see how an area that had been burned can change the quality of these plants and become more appealing to wildlife. We also had the chance to tag along with the consultants on farm visits and see how they assist farmers and ranchers in attaining their goals. Each visit consisted of something new and allowed me to see how the knowledge I learned in school can be applied in the real world.
One of my favorite days from the summer was the prescribed burn day. We braved the 102-degree heat index in addition to the heat from the fire, all while wearing long-sleeved cotton button down shirts. As we walked along the fire breaks while everyone took turns running the drip torch (which was actually really fun), we laughed and had fun singing any song we could think of that related to fire – "Burnin' Love," "Girl On Fire," "Burn Baby Burn" – we covered them all. I never knew much about prescribed burns, but I now realize how beneficial they are to the ecosystem. These experiences outside of my normal discipline have helped broaden my horizon, opened my mind to new ideas, and continued to develop me into a more well-rounded individual.
Allie Williams gains hands-on experience with the drip torch during a prescribed burn field day.
From left: Megan Prokop, Megan DeVuyst, Samantha Beard, Josh Hanson, Allie Williams, Samantha Howe and Barrett Moore
My time at the Noble Research Institute has been the summer of a lifetime. All the wonderful people I have met here have made me feel welcomed and part of the family. The consultants have invested their time in us. They've guided us and genuinely cared about our stories and our futures. Not only have I learned from the consultants, but I have learned from my fellow scholars as well. Each of us have a different background and story to tell. We shared a great amount of knowledge amongst our scholar group, learning anything from plant ID to economics and nutrition. Being surrounded by people with such passion for the agriculture industry is contagious. This summer has helped me continue to fuel my passion. There is so much about myself that I have learned that has allowed me to grow both personally and professionally.
Some of the things I have learned this summer:
These 11 weeks have been great, but it's time to get this girl back to Florida. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to spend the summer as a Lloyd Noble Scholar in Agriculture. It has truly been One Noble Summer.
Allie Williams is a 2017 Lloyd Noble Scholar in Agriculture from Florida. She is a senior agriculture (livestock production track) major at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton, Georgia. Her interests include the beef cattle industry, specifically livestock nutrition and advocacy.