UAPB Agricultural Engineering Major Completes Soil Health Institute Internship

Will Hehemann School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences

Brent Thomas, a junior majoring 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 interns selected to join the non-profit organization, which is charged with safeguarding and enhancing the vitality and productivity of soils.

During the internship, Thomas gained experience both in the field and laboratory, as he took soil samples and analyzed 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 internship,” Thomas said. “I met a lot of people and worked under some awesome guys. We pulled soil samples on different farms across the Delta and compared them under different soil management practices.”

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

“I think in the south, farmers believe they have to till the soil because they grew up planting crops this way,” he said. “However, tilling actually destroys the soil structure. Stopping or reducing tillage will save your land in the long run. This practice can ensure proper soil moisture and prevent erosion. No-till or minimum-till planting is also better for the environment since tillage burns up fuel.”

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

As part of the internship, the Soil Health Institute hosted an “intern week” in which all the interns were able to fly to the organization’s headquarters in Morrisville, North Carolina.

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

Dr. Blessing Masasi, assistant professor of agricultural engineering at UAPB and Thomas’ advisor, said the internship experiences with the Soil Health Institute were fruitful and will be handy in Thomas’ career.

“His internship has opened doors for more students in the Department of Agriculture at UAPB 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 sophomore year, a classmate told him about the new program. Agricultural engineering appealed to his interests and experience in working on farm machinery.

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

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

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

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

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

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

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