In this series, learn more about the 18 recipients of the Irrigation Association’s 2022 Anthony W. “Tony” LaFetra Scholarship Program sponsored by Rain Bird, given to college students studying and pursuing careers in the irrigation field.
The scholarships, ranging from $1,000 to $3,000, were awarded based on the candidate’s letter of intent, financial need, resume, list of irrigation courses and letters of reference.
Since the program’s inception in 2016, 107 students have been awarded scholarships.
I became involved in the world of agriculture almost immediately after I studied abroad in Spain studying botanical sciences. I started undergrad as a sustainability major, but once I returned to the U.S., I knew my future needed to involve studying plants. I quickly transferred to a phenomenal agricultural school, SUNY Cobleskill in upstate New York, studying plant sciences. This allowed me to experience all realms of agriculture from the plant perspective: nursery and greenhouse production, field crops and, of course, irrigation. Growing up as a Boy Scout, I spent the majority of my time outdoors and developed an incredible passion to preserve the Earth. After I learned about all the environmental degradation that is a result of agriculture, it easily became my purpose to study agriculture.
My very first agricultural internship was at a hydroponic greenhouse where we grew large quantities of Brassica crops and micro-greens. Thereafter, I worked in ornamental greenhouses, which gave me my true first experience into the horticulture realm and where I of course fell in love with horticulture. The college where I received my bachelor’s degree was practically an all-hands-on school. In most of the classes, we were either outside working directly with agricultural tools and equipment, conducting experiments or working in the landscape/greenhouses. It truly was a great and effective school to learn agriculture. To graduate, I was required to complete an internship, to which I completed mine at a nursery specifically designed for ecological restoration and phytoremediation projects. The summation of these experiences effectively prepared me to become a graduate student studying agriculture.
The entire research from my master’s degree was focused on water conservation practices that can be implemented by nurseries and greenhouses. My very first research project — and subsequently a chapter in my thesis — found that when we incorporate strategic irrigation scheduling with substrate management practices, we were greatly able to reduce our water use and still produce a salable crop. This undoubtedly makes me excited to see if growers will implement my research and proud that we found something potentially very significant.
I have just begun my PhD in horticulture and would like to continue staying in academia, pursuing novel research to help growers with their resource management practices, specifically from the irrigation perspective.
Water is the most valuable finite resource, a fact recognized by all. Agriculture serves as the foundation to support human life, yet it uses excessive quantities of water. To help conserve our water, we cannot stop agriculture or slow it down since we heavily depend on it. We must, therefore, make it more sustainable. Smart irrigation from my perspective means that we can continue producing our crops by using less water by advancing technology through innovative irrigation delivery methods, tactical scheduling and new irrigation-based methods. Expanding agricultural technology is at the forefront of our fingertips and precision agriculture can lead us to incredible irrigation use efficiency.
Originally, I came to Clemson University as an elementary education major. I realized I wanted a more versatile degree and that I was not 100% committed to teaching, so I looked into other education options and found agricultural education. I had no prior experience in agriculture, but I took an intro to horticulture class during my first semester in my sophomore year and fell in love with working with plants and learning about the horticultural industry. I switched into agricultural education and I have been exposed to so many fields in the agricultural sector. I absolutely love it.
After I switched to agricultural education, I made it a goal to get as much hands-on experience as possible. I became the president of the Clemson Collegiate FFA and joined the College of Agriculture as an ambassador for recruiting new students to the college. I interned at the Musser Fruit Research Center as a research assistant, where I got the opportunity to work with peaches, blackberries and other stone fruits. This opportunity opened the door for me to take another summer research assistant position at the Western Agricultural Research Center in Corvallis, Montana. This was a great experience for me to live in a new place and I also learned a lot about the differences in the agriculture out West versus in the Southeast.
I’m most proud of taking the opportunity to work out in Montana. I led a research trial that looked at irrigation deficit in cider apples, and I got to train others on how to operate the scientific equipment and record data. Aside from that, the whole internship in Montana was really just an awesome experience, and I am proud of myself for taking the courage to move out West by myself and take on a role that was out of my comfort zone!
Currently, I am working toward a career in extension. I would really like to be a horticultural or agronomical extension agent.
To me, smart irrigation is the practice of responsible water usage by taking advantage of the best systems and technology that are out in the irrigation industry. It is important to be practical, conservative and responsible in water usage when working in agriculture in order to get the best yields and mitigate losses in your operation.
Read about the other 2022 LaFetra Scholarship winners.
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