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A Razorback's Home Run

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Major League Baseball's official season has begun, and I'm ashamed to say I know very little about the sport even though it's the All-American game and there's a legacy of love for it in my family. My father played in high school, and my great-grandfather played with the St. Louis Browns in the 1920s until a burst appendix cut his fledgling career short and prompted his return to Oklahoma and the farm.

In a way, returning to the farm, or to "home base," was an important stabilizing factor for my family because my dad grew up on that farm, which instilled in him a love of agricultural life and the incomparable value of a place to always call home. These are similar traits I discovered in Josh Anderson, a research associate in the Small Grains Breeding Laboratory led by Xuefeng Ma, Ph.D., here at the Noble Research Institute.

I spoke with Josh just the other day about his education, life experiences and his work. He not only told me a fascinating story of his career and how he came to work here, but also of returning to his family's farm and how important it is for him to be able to meet the needs of producers through the work he does.

From Farm to Stadium

When Josh was a senior in high school, he started working at the Noble Research Institute, which was just a short drive from his family's 400-acre farm in Mannsville, Oklahoma. He continued to work with now-retired Jerry Baker, Ph.D., in the small grains breeding program while pursuing an associate's degree at Murray State College.

Then he went to the University of Arkansas in 2005, where he ultimately graduated with a bachelor's degree in turfgrass science in 2008. But before graduating, he spent a semester in Dodgertown, Florida, for a turf management internship. This stadium in Vero Beach is where the Brooklyn Dodgers hold their spring training. Josh told me that working the late shift at the stadium was a dream job for a college student. Mornings allowed for fun at the beach while evenings meant baseball games and getting to experience life in a stadium where greats like Jackie Robinson played.

Dodgertown internshipJosh Anderson (far right) as an intern in Dodgertown, Vero Beach, Florida. Photo courtesy of Josh Anderson.

After his internship in Florida, Josh worked for two years as the assistant groundskeeper for Northwest Arkansas Naturals in Springdale, Arkansas, while still in school. A year after graduating, in 2009, he advanced to groundskeeper when he moved to Boston to care for Red Sox turf, Fenway Park, one of the most iconic ballparks in the world.

BostonJosh Anderson (left) and co-worker Drew in Boston. Photo courtesy of Josh Anderson.

Coming Home

While he was in Boston, a long way from home and missing the warmth of the South, Josh received a call from his University of Arkansas adviser about a graduate school opportunity. Josh jumped at the chance and returned to his alma mater to complete his master's degree in horticulture in 2012.

After receiving his degree, Josh Anderson's life came to a turning point that led to his decision to return home to the family farm. Around the time Josh had moved to college, his grandfather retired from farming partly due to changes made in the 2002 Farm Bill and the rise in feral hog numbers. The family farming focus changed from a peanut operation to a cow-calf operation as a result, and his father sought employment at Michelin. Like many other farms in the U.S., the family farm was in need of a younger generation to step up and take the helm.

Josh's grandfatherJosh's grandfather at work on the peanut farm. Photo courtesy of Josh Anderson.

Josh with grandfatherJosh as a young boy on a tractor with his grandfather. Photo courtesy of Josh Anderson.

Because of his previous acquaintance with the Noble Research Institute from his high school days, Josh returned to Anderson Farm and also pursued a position in the small grains breeding laboratory, where he has been ever since.

Field Days Showcase New Cultivars

The small grains breeding lab at the Noble Research Institute focuses on developing small grains as forage for grazing cattle.

Josh's favorite part of working with small grains is participating in field demonstration days held at producers' farms. This is when new cultivars, like Maton II rye, Bates RS4 rye, NF201 triticale, NF101 wheat, NF402 oat, and Heavy Grazer II oat, developed through the Noble Research Institute small grains breeding program, are on display. The producer and Noble Research Institute consultants are on hand to answer questions from other producers who come to the field day wanting to learn more about how a new variety could benefit them and their cattle. Over the years, Josh has seen the impact of these days grow as they communicate the advantages of these new crops.

In addition to small grains, the Noble Research Institute has also helped develop a companion legume cultivar now available throughout the U.S. that provides forage and can act as a cover crop: Renovation white clover.

Cultivating Innovation

Josh pointed out that the key to improving farm operation is to know your land and to use a variety of tools to meet your individual needs, including not being afraid of innovation. He highlighted the work of another Forage Improvement Division laboratory under the direction of Twain Butler, Ph.D., that focuses on how multiple crops fit together to provide year-round forage. This work is part of the Noble Research Institute's organization-wide Forage 365 initiative. Work from this project will also benefit a new national cover crop research initiative announced by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and Noble Research Institute.

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and Noble Research Institute launched a national cover crop initiative, March 22, 2017. The $6.6 million research initiative, made possible by a $2.2 million grant from FFAR, will promote soil health through the development and adoption of new cover crops across the United States.

Firmly committed to maintaining has family's legacy, Josh knows firsthand that today's farms and operations are open to using new tools, and producers are interested in sharing the knowledge they gain. He told me that having more options is always better to produce a good outcome, and his research at the Noble Research Institute promises to bring even more options directly to producers. Meanwhile, his return home to the family farm has been good both for the Noble Research Institute and for Josh's family because of the commitment and experience he brings with him. That's a home run in my book!

Josh shadowing his fatherJosh Anderson as a young boy shadowing his father on the farm. Photo courtesy of Josh Anderson.

Some Anderson Farms cows. Photo courtesy of Josh Anderson.

See Josh Anderson's family farm twitter account here:


Other career ideas in Ag and more inspiring stories of American farmers here.

Amy Flanagan
Former Research Associate