More than Just Crunching Numbers

Carol Sanders | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences

AndrewsTomatoAs farmers take to the fields this spring, so will University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) agribusiness students. Instead of just crunching numbers as they have done in years past, the students will also plant crops and generate numbers to crunch.

A five-year research project of the UAPB Department of Agriculture is providing students a hands-on experience operating and managing a farm enterprise to aid in their understanding of the entire production phase, said Dr. Tracy Dunbar, UAPB associate professor of agriculture.

The project is Dr. Dunbar’s brainchild. “I want my students to have a well-rounded educational experience,” she said. In this project, students plant, harvest, weigh, clean up, market, package and sell the produce. In 2015, the first year for the project, it was tomatoes, okra and squash. Profits from this project go towards funding the students’ attendance at professional meetings and important networking meetings.

All this is helping students as they learn to generate enterprise budgets, which tell growers how much revenue per acre it costs to raise a crop. Students also learn about soil test testing, soil nutrition and other production factors.

In the past, agricultural business/economics students have had little interaction with farmers in the Small Farm Project. Now, small, limited-resource farmers may even end up serving as mentors to the agricultural/business students, and some students may eventually become the next generation of farmers, said Dr. Dunbar.20150805_085140

Elizabeth Andrews, who graduated in June 2015, hoping to work for a U.S. Department of Agriculture agency and eventually become a hobby farmer, and Anthony Brown, a senior aiming for a position with the Farm Service Agency, were the first students to be a part of the project.

A 20 foot x 40 foot plot was used to grow okra, tomatoes and squash. The project design included drip irrigation, six inch rows and raised beds. The rows were covered with black plastic. A hose was run underneath the black plastic for irrigation.

On June 1, 2015, three varieties of tomatoes – Big Boy, Beef Steak and Better Boy – were planted in three rows of 20 plants per row, two feet apart. On June 5, three rows of Crookneck squash were planted two feet apart, and three rows of crimson spineless okra were planted.

The squash yielded an average of 8 pounds over five harvests for a total yield of 40 pounds. At $1.64 per pound, the value of the squash was $65.60.

The average yield of okra has been 10 pounds over 20 harvests. With a suggested price for okra at $3.21 per pound (U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, 2013), the value of the okra comes to $642.

The 100-degree heat caused the tomatoes a lot of stress, said Dr. Dunbar. They began to rot on the vine. So, the students harvested 17 pounds of green tomatoes. At an average price of $3.16 per pound, the value of the yield was $53.72 bringing the total value of all crops to $761.32.

An enterprise budget factors in expenses In this experiment that included plants/seeds, black plastic, irrigation hose, water, stakes, diesel and labor for planting, watering, tilling and weedeating.

“Certainly vegetables will be planted this spring, especially tomatoes”, said Dr. Dunbar. “I feel that this is a successful project, and I know that students learned for this experience. We will build on this success each year.”

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