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CASNR Names Hales as the New Thornton Distinguished Chair in Animal Science

Thornton Distinguished Chair Dr. Kristin Hales
CASNR announced Dr. Kristin Hales as Thornton Distinguished Chair in Animal Science.

A Panhandle native and a leading export in her field of nutrition and beef cattle has brought her expertise to Texas Tech University as the new Thornton Distinguished Chair.

“I came back to academia because I really enjoy mentoring graduate students and helping them learn how to conduct research.” 

Dr. Hales said
Hales named Thornton Distinguished Chair
Dr. Kristin Hales named as the new CASNR Thornton Distinguished Chair in Animal Science.

Dr. Kristin Hales grew up in the Texas panhandle where she raised and showed cattle and sheep. She also did horse judging through her college career but said she always knew her passion was for beef cattle.

“I participated in the Texas Cattle Feeders Association Fed Beef Challenge where you had to feed a pin of cattle,” Hales said. “Then when I was in high school, I worked in the summertime, and after school at our local feedlot. That really piqued my interest in feedlot nutrition, especially in all feedlot cattle aspects and that’s really where I became interested.”

Hales completed her undergraduate and master’s degree in animal science at Oklahoma State University and then came back to Texas to complete her Ph.D. in animal science at Texas Tech. After Hales completed her schooling, she began working for the USDA Agricultural Research Service for the next decade.

“I knew that I wanted a heavy research job,” Hales said. “My degrees were very research driven and in doing the research in graduate school, I realized that I really enjoyed conducting research and analyzing data, interpreting the results, and then writing the results.”

While Hales worked for the government for the past decade there were not many opportunities to work with students or teach, she mainly just conducted her research and analyzed her data.

“I came back to academia because I really enjoy mentoring graduate students and helping them learn how to conduct research,” Hales said. “Helping students find their way and hoping that I can make research enjoyable for them so that they will want to one day do research as well. I always wanted to teach a little bit but going into ag research within the USDA I didn’t have that opportunity.”  

Through the years of research she did while working with the USDA, she said she was very excited to get to be teaching classes that related back to this research.

“I’ve been doing heavy research for the past 10 years,” Hales said. “Which makes it really fun to use what I’ve learned in my research, and then incorporate that into my classroom teachings. I really enjoy being on the university campus and I enjoy being around young people that are enthusiastic about agriculture.”

The animal and food science department staff were very excited to have Hales joining the department. Animal and food science chair and professor, Dr. Michael Orth, spoke very highly of Hales and looked forward to what she will bring to Texas Tech.

“Dr. Hales is a great addition to our faculty,” Orth said. “She became a nationally recognized researcher during her time at the USDA. She has a great work ethic and focus that is also being seen in the classroom. She will continue the tradition of outstanding scholars in the Thornton Chair position following in the footsteps of Drs. Preston and Galyean.”

Hales said she is excited to be back at Texas Tech teaching the next generation of research conductors and answering some of her research questions during her time at Texas Tech.

“When you look at it, time goes by so fast,” Hales said. “I’ve already been out of graduate school for 10 years. You really have to prioritize what questions do you want to answer before you retire because those answers take a long time to get when you’re doing research and so you have to prioritize. Like what things do I want to know before I retire, and I didn’t realize that right out of school.”

A Passion for People, Policy and Cotton

Whether he is walking the halls of Capitol Hill advocating for the southern plains cotton industry or driving a tractor through the red dirt of Crosby County, Texas, Steve Verett has left his footprint on the agriculture industry.

Originally from Crosby County, Texas, Steve Verett, chief executive officer of Plains Cotton Growers Inc., has spent his entire life in agriculture.

“It’s the greatest job in the world for a guy like me that I get to work for an industry that I care about greatly,” Verett said.

Although farming was not his long-term goal after graduating from Texas Tech University with a degree in accounting, Verett returned home to the family farm where he worked with his brother, Eddie.

“Over the years, my brother and I have had excellent working and personal relationships,” Verett said. “We complemented each other very well and it enabled me to do a lot of things outside of the farm.”

“It’s the greatest job in the world for a guy like me that I get to work for an industry that I care about greatly.”

Steve Verett

While he loves working closely with his brother, Verett said he knew if he was ever going to make a move away from the farm to something like policy, his involvement within other organizations would matter greatly. In 1993, Verett was given an opportunity to work for Texas Food and Fibers Commission, a state agency that conducts agricultural research contracted for research with four different universities in the state, Texas Tech being one of them. 

While growing a passion for policy working with the Texas Food and Fibers Commission, Verett said this opportunity has continued to contribute to his career today.

“I really got a completely different perspective that has served me well since then,” Verett said.

After being offered his current position as CEO, Verett has been leading PCG since 1997. PCG is a non-profit producer organization composed of cotton producers in the Texas High Plains. The organization focuses on legislation, research, promotion and service to assist the needs of their members, volunteers and producers.

“Now, you know, the fact of the matter is that while we may come up with some ideas and we may work on some things, it’s our volunteers that are the heart of this organization and that’s what makes us what we are today,” Verett said.

Verett said their staff is guided by their volunteers, and it is just the organization’s job to carry out the volunteers’ goals. While PCG only represents cotton growers in the 42 counties surrounding Lubbock, Verett and other staff members work with producers and legislators all over the country represent cotton farmers in Austin, Texas, and Washington D.C.

Barry Evans, a cotton farmer from Kress, Texas, and former president of PCG has worked with Verett for many years.

“Steve is incredible,” Evans said. “He is the go to guy for anything to do with cotton in West Texas and anywhere in the country.”

Verett’s role as CEO varies, but his most important job is contributing to agricultural legislation. Verett has had the opportunity to work on all farm bills since 1997, experiencing many highs and lows for the cotton industry.

Photo of Steve Verett talking with Ted Cruz
In 2016, Ted Cruz visited the Hub City to meet with Mr. Verett and other leaders in the agriculture industry. Photo courtesy of Plains Cotton Growers.

“Well, you know, [farm bills] are all unique and some have certainly been disappointments,” Verett said. “Some we’ve been elated about.”

The first farm bill Verett worked on as a professional with PCG was the milestone 2002 Farm Bill.  During this time, all of agriculture was coming off tough times with disaster and disaster programs, but with surplus dollars in the government, they were able to make some improvements within crop insurance and Title One programs critical to the area.

With the next farm bill taking place in 2008, Verett said this one was a status quo bill. With pressure coming from all sides, he considers it to be a victory nowadays. His experience with the 2014 Farm Bill varied greatly.

“Farm bill ‘14 was a very tired and disappointing farm bill from a cotton perspective,” Verett said. “As it turned out, we were lucky probably to maintain what we did.”

Cotton was removed from Title One for the first time in the history of farm programs in the 2014 Farm Bill, creating frustration for cotton farmers within the Texas High Plains and nationwide.

“The cotton industry decided that, in order to clear the decks, we had to do something completely different to clear this case up,” Verett said.

While working hard to help cotton farmers in the High Plains during this trying time, the Stacked Income Protection Program was implemented. While it was able to help cotton farmers, Verett said it was never going to be able to take the place of the price support program they had to give up.

“The ‘14 Farm Bill was really a low point for cotton from the standpoint that we weren’t like the rest of the commodities,” Verett said.  “But you know, it was kind of one of those deals, you think that you got to make lemonade out of lemons and that’s what the industry did, and the leadership of the House Ag Committee helped us do.”

Verett said there were many attempts made to try to get cotton back into the farm bill. It was finally taken care of in February of 2018 when the Balanced Budget Act was passed to take cotton back into the bill as seed cotton rather than just lint, even before the farm bill was being discussed for the new authorization.

“So, it was a joyous day, when that was finally accomplished,” Verett said. “I shudder to think, where we would be today if we didn’t have that in place. It is absolutely critical at this point.”

Verett continues to fight the good fight, putting cotton farmers first. He said he attributes the success of the organization to those he surrounds himself with.

“I’m really not all that smart,” Verett said. “But I recognize talented people I think, and I’ve surrounded myself with talented people that have that fire in the belly for this industry.”

William Raftis

Agricultural and Applied Economics

A quick trip through Lubbock, Texas, made the decision to attend Texas Tech University rather easy for William Raftis. His passion for agriculture led him to pursue a degree which would allow him to interact in the industry daily.

“I respect the common values agriculturists share.”

William Raftis

“I have a deep passion and love for those that feed, fuel and clothe this nation,” Raftis said. “I respect the common values agriculturists share.”

Raftis, form Springfield, Illinois, is a senior agribusiness major and political science minor at Texas Tech. Having always been involved in agriculture, Raftis said the opportunity to participate in a College of Agriculture Sciences and Natural Resource Government Internship is what initially sparked his interest in acquiring a minor in politics.

“The internship credits would not have fit elsewhere in my degree plan,” Raftis said. “So, I decided to pick up my minor knowing it had a possibility to be beneficial down the road.”

Raftis standing at Capitol Hill
Raftis gained valuable experience while working on Capitol Hill during his internships.

Raftis said his internship in Washington, D.C., with Congressman Jodey Arrington was something he will never forget. He said it gave him numerous opportunities to be involved in day-to-day operations. He said his internship taught him theimportance of cultivating personal relationships, while making the most of every experience.

“It was a powerful experience,” Raftis said. “I would recommend all students take a chance and apply.”

Darren Hudson, Ph.D., Larry Combest Chair of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, professor, and Raftis academic advisor, said he has always been a motivated student.

“Will is a student who always takes initiative,” Hudson said. “Which made it easy to give him the guidance needed to participate in a government internship.” 

Raftis said he has always had the idea of attending law school in the back of his mind throughout his college career.  He said after completing his internship he became very serious about it. Raftis has plans to attend Texas Tech Law School in the fall, but said he is keeping his mind open to what type of law he will study.

“I don’t want to go in with any preconceived notions,” Raftis said. “You never know what opportunities will pop up along the way.”

Marie Reinke

A first-generation undergraduate student stepped foot on the Texas Tech University campus awaiting her four-year landscape architecture experience. A passion for landscape architecture and campus involvement allowed this student to find their second home. 

“My interpretation of landscape architecture is designing the outdoors in sustainable ways that allow humans and wildlife to interact with nature.”

Landscape Architecture Student

Marie Reinke, from Waco, Texas, is a senior at Texas Tech dual majoring in landscape architecture and business management.

“Some might not understand what this degree is or what we do. My interpretation of landscape architecture is designing the outdoors in sustainable ways that allow humans and wildlife to interact with nature,” Reinke said.

Reinke is a member of the Student American Society of Landscape Architects (SASLA) at Texas Tech and served as the event coordinator.

The SASLA provides an excellent experience through professional opportunities. Something that the organization does differently is putting together an event called WreckShop.

Marie Reinke is a Texas Tech student that has built a strong foundation through her professors and peers within the Department of Landscape Architecture

“This event is something that as a student officer, we spend all summer and most of spring and fall semesters preparing for,” Reinke said.

The three-day event Reinke put on is filled with educational experiences showcased at the First Friday Art Trail, a monthly city art show in Lubbock, Texas has each month.

Reinke emphasized the importance of being involved during her collegiate experience.

“You may ask, where does my business management degree come into play,” Reinke said, “having a business management degree is appropriate and relatable no matter the type of business it is one is working for.”

In August 2020, Reinke will graduate with her Bachelor of Landscape Architecture and Business Management. Her career goals are to use her skills to work her way up in a company.

“The participation that I have had within the landscape architecture community has been extremely helpful with making connections with professors and professionals in my field of study,” Reinke said, “it has opened doors for opportunities and relationships that can be built beyond my time as an undergraduate.”

Big Business, Big Heart

Spurlock laughs as one of the curious calves smells his hand.
Spurlock laughs as one of the curious calves smells his hand.

As a young leader, Wesley Spurlock was determined to open a restaurant in Amarillo, Texas. It was 1979, and Spurlock, who had just graduated from West Texas State, was passionate about building his own restaurant – until he got a call from his mother. She explained that while working calves, his dad’s knee was badly injured. Though his father would not ask, Spurlock’s dad needed help back on the farm while recovering from surgery.

After the call, Spurlock moved home to help take care of his dad and keep the farm running. He never left. After farming for 40 years, Spurlock said he did not plan to come back to the farm at that point, but once he came home, he was there to stay.

“When I got back on the farm there was no leaving,” Spurlock said.

The business side of the farm, pulled him in, he said. Spurlock Farms Too has grown from 900 acres in 1980 to a 17,000-acre operation today between Sunray and Stratford, Texas. They grow corn, cotton, triticale, alfalfa and milo.

“It’s just big business, and I enjoy the business,” Spurlock said, “and how it developed in growing the farm from small to a large farm and a big business.”

He also purchased a feed yard five years ago, and after two years of rebuilding, Early Settlers Farm LLC began operations in 2017. They now run 4,500 head of cattle and are certified for up to 6,000 head.

While Spurlock likes big business, he also has a big heart. Spurlock said he enjoys helping others, which is evident in his many leadership roles and activities.

“I just like taking care of people.”

Wesley Spurlock

“I just like taking care of people and working with them,” Spurlock said.

He said roles in small communities such as being a t-ball coach, a church leader or a member of Farm Bureau are what push people down the path toward leadership. These opportunities spark passion which drives them to the next leadership role, creating a cycle of passion and leadership.

Spurlock Chapel, built in 1903, still stands on the Spurlock's property.
The Wesley Spurlock Community Chapel was established in 1903 by Wesley Spurlock’s great grandfather, who was a Methodist preacher. The Spurlock family was one of the first families to settle in the area.

Spurlock’s passion for agriculture and taking care of people has led to his position as a leader in various organizations. He is an active board member of Texas Corn Producers, First State Bank and his church. In 2015, after serving on the National Corn Growers Association board for five years, Spurlock was elected to serve in an officer rotation. The rotation involves a year as first vice president, a year as president and a year as chairman.

In August 2016, Texas Corn Producers hosted their first Field to Fork event at Spurlock’s new feed yard, Early Settlers Farm LLC. Stephanie Pruitt, communications director at Texas Corn Producers, said they chose the Spurlocks’ feed yard because of the family’s agricultural history, their knowledge of different aspects in the industry, and their position as leaders in agriculture.

“Field to Fork is designed to connect food influencers and decision makers with the farmers that grow their food,” Pruitt said, “and so it highlights Texas crops, Texas products – it connects attendees with farmers who make it all possible.”

Spurlock said he wants people to know that although their operation may be under a corporate structure, they are still a family farm. He said seeing his grandson and other young generations running around the farm is what makes it all worthwhile.  

After Spurlock rotated off from his officer positions with the National Corn Growers Association, he stepped into another leadership role as president of the Texas Corn Producers. He said after a few years, he will likely step down and then look for the next leadership opportunity.

Spurlock’s passion for business and taking care of people has brought him to a point where he says he will always be in a position of leadership, even without a designated role.

“I don’t think that leadership ever really goes away completely,” Spurlock said. “You are always that leader.”

Blind, Bold and Brilliant

Faith Snapp with her family and guide dogs at the San Antonio Livestock Exhibition.
The San Antonio Livestock Exhibition is always an event in the Snapp Family. 2020 was no different. Photo courtesy of Angie Snapp.

The air was warm and filled with the sound of laughter as the Snapp family sat around their living room. Show banners hung near the fireplace while Prim and Grit, Faith and Caleb’s guide dogs, played noisily in the background. Ambitious determination, resilience and love imbue the room with the feeling of home.

“It’s been a very cool ride,” said Angie Snapp, Faith and Caleb’s mother.

Faith and Caleb Snapp are fraternal twins who are both seniors at Lubbock-Cooper High School. Born 13 weeks premature and visually impaired, all while their father, Brent Snapp, was critically ill, Angie said the beginning of their lives was difficult. She said all three of them were on life support and times were hard, but in a family built on Christian values, she said both she and Brent drew on their beliefs. 

“I was able to talk to Brent,” she said. “We knew that we would need to have the faith of Caleb if we were going to get through this.”

With the goal to make their childhood as normal as possible, Angie said she did everything she could to accommodate Faith and Caleb’s disability. So long as their teachers provided them with things like large print, magnifying devices, and seated them in the right place, she said the twins excelled.

“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight, but no vision.”

Faith Snapp

Faith said academically, it was a struggle at first. The twins had to learn to advocate for themselves by speaking out for what they needed to be successful, and that’s when they began to find their passions.

Caleb, a music lover and goat showman, plays six instruments. He said he plays the piano, guitar, ukulele, bass drum, marimba and timpani. He won the Lubbock District FFA Talent competition, and he’s continued to defy the odds at every intersection, showing the world his disability doesn’t define him.

Caleb Snapp with his instruments and service dog, Grit.
Caleb Snapp, a visually impaired musician and agriculturist, continually proves that anything is possible. Photo courtesy of Jacey DuBois.

“I’ve always had a love for music,” he said. “That’s where my passion is… that’s what I’ll be pursuing when I go to SPC.”

Faith, on the other hand, said she has a calling for agriculture. She’s the chapter president for the Lubbock-Cooper FFA and first vice president for the Area 1 FFA Association. It’s obvious she’s been successful in the goat ring as the banner for the Reserve Grand Champion Market Goat from the “Keep it Weird” goat show hangs above her bed after Rodeo Austin was cancelled. She said she’s so thankful she and her brother have been able to grow up in the agriculture industry.

“It has truly been the one thing that we’ve been involved in that has never placed limitations on us or our disability,” Faith said.

Both Faith and Caleb started exhibiting market goats in the third grade. After their first year, their mother said they helped pave the way for students who need accommodations in the show industry. Both are allowed one person to accompany them in the ring as a spotter. The spotter simply acts as their eyes, telling them where the judge is and how their goat is set up. Angie said Faith and Caleb take care of the rest. Faith said it makes her happy when she sees other students with spotters.

Faith Snapp with her reserve grand champion market goat at the "Keep it Weird" goat show.
Faith Snapp’s crowning moment of her show career was winning Reserve Grand Champion Market Goat at the “Keep it Weird” Goat Show after Rodeo Austin was cancelled. Photo courtesy of Angie Snapp.

“It’s really been an incredible thing to see,” Faith said. “I’m so thankful that we’ve helped make it easier for other showmen.”

With the help of their guide dogs, Prim and Grit, Faith said this is the closest she and Caleb have ever been to walking like a sighted person. Caleb said his life has changed immensely for the better since he got Grit. He and Faith both have guide dogs from an organization called Guide Dogs for the Blind, a non-profit public charity who works to prepare dogs to help visually impaired individuals live their lives independently.

“They’re completely different people with their dogs,” Angie said. “It’s hard to trust your kid with an animal, but it really lets them be more independent.”

Before they got their dogs, Angie said Faith and Caleb spent most of their time at her side. She said she directed them where to walk, when to stop, and everything in between. When Faith completed her training with Prim, Angie said her daughter asked for a celebratory dinner at Raising Cane’s Chicken. When they were getting ready to leave, Angie said she was worried because she couldn’t find her daughter. She said she looked up to see that Faith had already left the restaurant and was standing at the car. She said this was something she never would have done before getting Prim.

Caleb said he struggled with the idea of using a cane or guide dog. He said he felt that if he did, all it did was show the world his disability.

“I put it off for as long as I could because I just wanted to be a normal kid,” he said. “I felt like I’d get a lot of negative attention, or people wouldn’t understand. It took me a long time for me to see that people would.”

Faith and Caleb said as they get ready head off to college at West Texas A&M University and South Plains College in the fall, they’re excited to pursue their own goals. Their mother said she’s so proud of all her kids, and Caleb said he can’t wait for the chance to be in the courses that help develop his love for music. When asked about what being visually impaired has taught her, Faith said “the only thing worse than being blind is having sight, but no vision.” She said she strives to look at others every day with her heart, and not her eyes.

Agriculture for All

When people think of the College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources, their first thought is usually a kid who grew up on a farm or ranch in the middle of nowhere Texas donning jeans and boots.

“It is for people to know where their food comes from where your clothes come important from.”

Sandra Addo

While this may be true for some, Sandra Addo is working to defy those stereotypes.

In January, Addo joined the CASNR Dr. Bill Bennett Student Success Center as the administrator for diversity and graduate student recruitment. The Dallas/Fort Worth area native was a first-generation college student and marketing major at Texas Tech. She also previously served as a college recruiter. 

Addo said these experiences have led her to a career she is passionate about.

“It was fantastic,” Addo said. “Having already worked with first-generation students, it’s something that I had already become really passionate about.”

Cindy Akers, Ed.D., associate dean for academic and student programs, said she knew immediately when she met Addo she was perfect for the job.

“We felt so fortunate to find her,” Akers said. “When we interviewed her, she was a perfect fit. Even though she doesn’t have an ag background, her positive attitude of ‘she will try anything’ shows she understands the CASNR philosophy of ‘We’re here to help and how can we get it done?’”

Addo said even though she did not grow up around agriculture, she has found a love for it. Being a part of the CASNR community has shown her how incredibly important agriculture is. She said she has learned things she would have never otherwise known about had it not been for her current position.

“Now, they require students to take art classes, science classes and math,” Addo said. “But, they do not force people to take an ag class. It is important for people to know where their food comes from and where your clothes come from. I get so excited because I did not know about half of these things before CASNR.”

Akers said it has been quite apparent they chose the right person for the job with all of the fresh, new ideas she has brought to the table. Not only has she implemented various opportunities for students of all majors to learn about agriculture, but she has also worked tirelessly on perfecting organizations for minority demographics within CASNR.

Addo said she started by working on educating people about CASNR. She said she first created a website for CASNR graduate school. This gives students access to what research and projects are in progress as well as scholarship information. She then brought in various speakers to educate students about the importance of agriculture and what CASNR is about. Lastly, she improved CASNR’s social media presence by engaging its audience and targeting perspective students.

Addo said she then moved into larger projects. She has been working on improving the Minorities in Agriculture Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) and Agriculture Future of America (AFA) student organizations. She has been working with officers in both organizations to find better ways to promote them to students and recruit student members. She is planning to take them to conferences and festivals to help spread the word. Addo said MANRRS and AFA are organizations she wished she would have known about when she was in college. 

“Everyone should know how important ag is,” Addo said. “Since I did not know about it for the past 25 years, I feel like I was cheated out of my education.” 

Addo said the last major component she is responsible for is career services and internships. She said her goal is to pair every student that walks in the door with the career they are interested in. She has been working with the Texas Tech Career Center to ensure this goal is met.

Addo said the COVID-19 epidemic has not stopped them from helping students. CASNR has implemented about 10 online graduate school programs students can start from home. She said she is working to ensure students have full access to her during the quarantine and that they are working hard to keep students up to date with the latest information about the situation.

Addo said she wants students to know what a great program CASNR is and that CASNR is a great place for students of all backgrounds.

“I want everyone to know in agriculture and around that TTU CASNR is a family,” Addo said. “Before you’re in college, while you’re in college, and after you’re in college, we will continue to serve you and find ways to help you out.”

Reducing the Water Footprint

Photo of Dr. West holding last years alfalfa
Dr. West grabs the previous year’s alfalfa, while the new forage grows in beneath it. Alfalfa is a perennial, high-quality and resilient grass that is full of nutrients.

A West Texas farmer sits on the bed of his Ford truck, watching his cattle graze the land. His feeder steers are in the distance pulling the last of the forage out of the barren ground. The farmer shakes his head at how thin his stock looks because the Ogallala Aquifer is too low to sustain the forage. He is worried about breaking even on the steers, let alone being profitable enough to make his yearly return. 

Luckily researchers at Texas Tech University have been studying and testing different ways to reduce the water footprint to save the Ogallala Aquifer. The water footprint refers to how much water it takes to produce a pound of beef. Charles West, Ph.D., professor and Thornton Distinguished Chair in Plant and Soil Science at Texas Tech, has been researching forage crops and pastures for many years. Also, West is director of the College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources Water Center and provides administrative leadership to the Texas Alliance for Water Conservation. 

“This is what we do research for,” West said. “We see something that looks interesting and could be very important.” 

West has been researching forage crops and pastures for 43 years, including 28 years at the University of Arkansas. West said Texas Tech has excellent facilities to do field research on forage grazing systems. The overarching goal of their research is to reduce the water footprint used on cattle grazing grass without negatively affecting the rate of gain of the cattle.

Photo of WW-B Dahl Seeds
WW-B Dahl Bluestem is a high-quality, resilient grass and has a good drought tolerance. It is a high-yielding grass that has low fertility requirements.

Focused on Forage

West is currently focusing his research efforts on cattle grazing on Old-World Bluestem called WW-B Dahl Bluestem and a legume Alfalfa. Both are perennial plants that are resilient and tolerate to weather, which makes them a prime choice for the dry West Texas climate. These forages are high-quality to ensure cattle ingest their proper nutrients. 

West said the research is designed to have a few pastures with only WW-B Dahl and a few pastures with WW-B Dahl and Alfalfa at high and low densities. These pastures are irrigated with a drip irrigation system and center pivot irrigation. 

Kathryn Radicke, a Texas Tech plant and soil science research graduate student, works closely with West on this project. Radicke said these grasses can do extremely well without irrigation for farmers who cannot irrigate their pastures.  

“Rather than moving cattle through pastures with a bunch of different types of forage, it is something more applicable to the farmers in this area,” Radicke said. 

For their research, the cattle breeds used for the research are typically Purebred Angus or a Simmental Angus cross and graze the pastures from June to the beginning of October. West said the cattle are in the stocker stage meaning weaned calves to before they are sent to a feedlot.

West said the reason for using Angus or Angus-cross cattle is because they handle the low humid climate better, and the meat quality is typically the best. He said they want the cattle to be as uniform as possible. The cattle should look, act, and digest the grass the same way. This ensures the cattle are a constant. 

“The differences in their productivity can be related to the differences that we impose on the pasture rather than differences from animal variation,” West said. “In our research, our enemy is biological variation.”  

Keeping the cattle as uniform as possible and letting them graze the two different types of pastures will show any differences in the cattle’s rate of gain as a result of the grass rather than genetics, West said. Beyond the grass and the cattle, water is the next important component of West’s research. 

A Conclusion Worth Ruminating

The water footprint calculated is how much water it takes to keep the WW-B Dahl and Alfalfa healthy and keep cattle gains high. West said that Alfalfa is easy to digest so it helps increase weight gain and reduce the amount of water it takes to produce a pound of meat.

 “Keep doing what we are doing. We are lowering the footprint and things will change.” 

Charles West

West and Radicke found WW-B Dahl and Alfalfa are a good mix and could be beneficial to South Plains cattle producers. Radicke said this is an inexpensive process for producers to increase their gains and help preserve the Ogallala Aquifer.  

Photo of Dr. West checking the alfalfa
Dr. West checks the pasture to see the quality of the new forages growing back in. The alfalfa turns green typically when the potential for a spring frost has passed.

A few producers have recently transitioned into this way of grazing and others have been forced into it. West said producers who adapt to this process are concerned about water consumption on their farms or have trouble with growing grasses to increase cattle gains.

“You can grow this resilient grass called WW-B Dahl and grow Alfalfa with it and it bumps up your gains,” West said. 

West said reducing the water used and increasing gains translates into money. 

After many successful years researching forage, West will retire in August of 2020. His advice to other researchers and farmers is to continue advancing and finding advancements for agriculture. 

 “Keep doing what we are doing,” West said. “We are lowering the footprint and things will change.” 

Growing soybeans; Growing futures

Dr. Lyford looking at statistics of his research.
Texas Tech University takes pride in doing research internationally to advance agricultural practices in other countries.

Ghana’s poverty and hunger have declined steadily over the last 20 years thanks, mostly, to improved agricultural extension services and improved market access. Researchers in Texas Tech University’s College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources were working to understand the financial benefits of producing soybeans in Africa.

In Ghana, research plots of soybeans were planted to monitor the changes in yield and income for local farmers.

The goal of the research was to evaluate the effect of improved agricultural extension services and improved market access opportunities on productivity level, food security, nutrition status and income levels among smallholder farmers, according to research by Conrad Lyford, Texas Tech agricultural and applied economics professor.

The research took place for a year. At the end of the study, farmers showed interest in continuing to grow soybeans. In the year after, soybean production expanded in almost all targeted communities, according to Esri.

“There’s a lot of inequities in production agriculture in Africa,” Lyford said.

“Typically, most of the farmers are actually women. However, women have a lot less access to credit, quality land, informational resources, and other inputs to be successful in farming. Soybeans were considered at the time to be a ‘woman’s crop’.”

In Ghana, soybeans are put into food for an additional source of protein. Soybeans have appealing nutritional characteristics and looked like they would be profitable, Lyford said. The producers could benefit financially from the crop with the right tools, which they did not currently have access to.

Lyford said the scale of Ghana’s production agriculture differs from the United States, especially when it comes to equipment. Ghana farmers harvest everything by hand, whereas U.S. farmers utilize a wide range of machinery to farm a higher number of acreage.

However, the two countries do share some agricultural commonalities. One way production is like the United States is the mindset, he said. The Ghana farmers are doing a job to benefit the community and their families.

“The big similarity,” Lyford said, “is they’re just growing crops for a source of income and food.”

Lyford said Ghana has a more agriculturally-based economy. A big engine for growth in Ghana is production agriculture, and it is something that can be improved for the better, he said.

Throughout Lyford’s study, yields were substantially increased for most farmers who participated.

As of today, most of the farmers who participated in the study are now producing on their own.

“The ones I talked to were very happy to have done it. They were proud to be involved and pleased with the outcomes.

Dr. Lyford

“Some of the other farmers in different regions and communities are now starting to produce soybeans,” Lyford said.  

Lyford said men and women from the farming communities participated in the study.

“The focus was primarily on women,” Lyford said, “70% of the recipients were women; however, we did have men that were involved as well.”

Women farmers are key contributors to agriculture production, marketing and intrahousehold food distribution.

Available evidence shows food security and overall national growth and development of any economy could be improved if smallholders, particularly women smallholders, are supported, according to Esri.  

The study’s objectives for the research were to determine the current situation with soybean productivity level, food security and nutrition status, he said. Then, they would evaluate the effect of the improved situation and the impact on female smallholders.

In Ghana, soybeans are used for farm families who are extremely poor. Soybeans can provide protein for malnourished children.

Lyford’s project aimed to help aid farmers in Ghana with agricultural opportunities. Lyford said he and his team saw significant increases in yield, especially in Sankpala and Chiranda. In the other three areas of research, they found the yields were lower than before the implementation of the study. However, the end of the assessment showed unpredictable climate was the main cause of lower yields, Lyford said.

In regard to income, all areas showed an increase in income for the farmers. The objectives of the study were achieved by identifying new market locations, training smallholders in market dynamics, and linking farmers to agricultural commodity marketing platforms, according to Esri. 

During the research, gender inequality was also a factor. On a national level, there has been improvement with inequality for women. However, some parts of Ghana still struggle with this issue, he said. One example of the inequality women face is receiving lower quality land.

In Ghana, men usually have the power over decision making with resources, education, and training, according to Esri. This was one of the main reasons the study focused in on aiding women he said. 

For the most part, the farmers who were a part of the study were grateful for the experience.

“The ones I talked to where very happy to have done it.” Lyford said. “They were proud to be involved and pleased with the outcomes. At the end, they took over ownership of producing the soybeans. They were very motivated to get the job done. Farmers were now thinking about how to be more productive, and how to overcome constraints they faced the year before.”

Hank’s New Voice

Hank the Cowdog, TTU, Agricultural Education
This illustration by Texas Tech senior, Auden McBeath, depicts the Ranch Life Learning series resting upon a patch of bluebonnets beyond a cattle ranch.

As the importance of agricultural education increases, the National Ranching Heritage Center continues to provide educators with innovative classroom tools and has future plans that will bring Hank the Cowdog to life.

Merely three years ago, author John R. Erickson partnered with the NRHC to publish an informative series of children’s books narrated by his witty character, Hank. The books, known as the Ranch Life Learning series, incorporate ranching, agriculture and wildlife into public school curriculums and casts Hank in his new role as a teacher. 

Hank the Cowdog, TTU, Agricultural Education
This illustration by Texas Tech senior, Auden McBeath, depicts the Ranch Life Learning series resting upon a patch of bluebonnets beyond a cattle ranch.

Julie Hodges is the Helen DeVitt Jones Endowed director of education at the NRHC. Hodges is devoted to the message behind the Ranch Life Learning series and has worked closely in the development of a corresponding curriculum guide. 

“We’ve done some really cool things that I’m pretty proud of,” Hodges said. 

In the last three years, Hodges and the NRHC have implemented the Ranch Life Learning series into 60 school districts across the nation, distributing more than 45,000 copies. 

“It’s the only place in the world you’ll be able to see Hank the Cowdog in a realistic way,” Hodges said. 

With the original plan of a three-book series, Hodges was ecstatic to announce the publication of two additional books. 

“Book four will focus on ranch weather,” Hodges said, “and book five will focus on prairie fires.”

Erickson, the series author, lost his own ranch to prairie fires in 2017. Erickson hopes to depict prairie fire management techniques in book five by reflecting on his own experiences.  

“It’s a really interesting book and will hopefully help students in this area understand prairie fire more clearly,” Hodges said, “because there’s a lot of mystery to it.

Based on the success of the first three books, the Ranch Life Learning series has been developed into a multi-faceted curriculum plan. This carefully developed curriculum includes classroom activities, reading strategies, and teaching guides. The series covers topics such as economics, business, geography and animal breeds. 

The Ranch Life Learning curriculum is implemented into classes such as social studies, science, reading and more. By frequently updating curriculums and developing new activities, the NRHC is leading a progressive trend in agricultural education. Hodges said training and providing educators with curriculum guides has been very successful.

“It gives teachers the flexibility of when and how to incorporate it into their curriculum,” Hodges said. 

Julie Hodges, TTU
Julie Hodges standing next to the historic Hoffman Barn that was constructed by Lawrence H. Jones in 1906.

Using a cross-curriculum allows educators to utilize activities and lessons across many different courses. With the help of exceptional educators, Hodges said agricultural education will continue to impact and engage with young minds.

“I see it as a project that will never be finished and it’s something that we can always find ways to enhance,” Hodges said. 

Jim Bret Campbell, executive director of the National Ranching Heritage Center, is also closely involved with the Ranch Life Learning series. Campbell said curriculum developers work hard to create educational and engaging content. 

“They mostly focus on horses, wildlife and ranch livestock,” Campbell said. 

Campbell said the NRHC has big plans for the future of Ranch Life Learning. These plans include the development of the Ranch Life Learning Center exhibit, located on the NRHC property. 

The purpose of this interactive exhibit is to answer the frequent question; what is a ranch?

“The Ranch Life Learning Center will be an indoor-outdoor permanent exhibit that will answer questions with the help of Hank the Cowdog,” Hodges said. 

Hodges said when the NRHC opened its doors, the community was still very in touch with the meaning of agriculture. But times have changed, and an interactive exhibit will not only bring the Ranch Life Learning series to life, but also encourage agricultural education of the public. 

The exhibit will be large-scale and feature interactive technology and activities. The NRHC has been awarded a grant for planning the project but will require additional funding for the building process.

“We’ve made progress raising about a quarter of the funds needed,” Hodges said as she flipped through a binder. “And, we are actively pursuing the rest.”

The Ranch Life Learning Center is currently in the planning phase. By utilizing the skills of professional designers and architects, the NRHC hopes for the exhibit to be inclusive to all ages and levels of agricultural education.  

“We are partnering with various experts to make sure that we can build a wonderful exhibit that would be appropriate for a small child all the way to a seasoned rancher,” Hodges said.

Inclusivity is important at the NRHC. By creating age-friendly exhibits and activities, they are able to broaden demographics and reach a larger audience. Hodges said the NRHC expects a drastic increase in the number of visitors on site when the Ranch Life Learning Center opens. 

“It’s the only place in the world you’ll be able to see Hank the Cowdog in a realistic way,” Hodges said. 

The exhibit will include topics of cowboys, livestock nutrition, prairie ecology and the basics of ranch life. From wildlife to native plant species, this exhibit will cover a broad spectrum. The NRHC is aiming to spread agricultural awareness while preserving the beloved voice of Hank the Cowdog. 

“We’re building something that’s real and telling a real story with the help of a fictional character,” Hodges said. 

Within the next two to five years, the Ranch Life Learning Center will be much more than the plans and blueprints on Hodge’s desk.

Flying High: The Fat Tire Cowboys


irt and dried grass swirl in the air as a spring breeze rolls down the runway. The sun is slowly setting in a clear, blue West Texas sky. The low, steady drone of an engine can be heard, first faintly, then much louder. Over a grassy area running between a line of hangars and the Slaton Municipal Airport taxi way, a Cessna 185 Skywagon roars into view. The small, high wing aircraft boasting large tires first flies effortlessly down the makeshift landing strip, 10 feet off of the ground. It then circles back, lands, and comes to rest in the field.

As the airplane door opens, golden light reflects off of the clean, white door. A pair of brown, leather boots step out of the sparkling machine and onto the ground by the large, black tires affixed to the airplane. A group of men, wearing boots and some—cowboy hats, approach the airplane.

An unsuspecting passerby would say the happy banter echoing off of the metal hangars were originating from the group of cowboys standing around the airplane with big tires in a field. For the most part, they would be correct. But they are no ordinary cowboys; they are the Fat Tire Cowboys.

We are not traditional airplane people,” La Rosa stressed. “We love it. We just go out and do it; we live it.”

The Fat Tire Cowboys are a group of Texans, primarily raised on the Llano Estacado, who share a background in agriculture and passion for aviation. What began with a simple YouTube post has blossomed into an international brand under the leadership of Bryan Rosa, from Tahoka, Texas. Rosa is better known as “La Rosa” to the other cowboys and their 28,000 followers across social media applications.

After La Rosa was shown fellow Fat Tire Cowboy Chad Bartee’s new bush plane, he knew he had to have one. Later that year, he bought and modified the same type of aircraft by replacing the standard 8-inch tires with a 31-inch pair, allowing the airplane to land in plowed fields, rock-filled river beds, and virtually any non-pavement runway.

La Rosa said the pair of pilots then took a trip to the Canyonlands National Park in Utah. There, he created a video showing the airplanes flying over striking landscapes. After posting the video and receiving overwhelming positive feedback and views, he created the Fat Tire Cowboys along with a logo and shirt.

“We were doing all of this crazy stuff anyways,” La Rosa said. “Might as well go ahead and post it for other people to see, too.”

The Fat Tire Cowboys’ passion for flying goes beyond a hobby. Although all of the cowboys have careers outside of aviation, the group can regularly be found planning their next adventure in their hangars any given day. La Rosa said flying is more than a form of transportation to the cowboys. The cowboys fly because they love every part of the journey from the moment they pull their airplanes out of the hangar – to the moment their fat tires touchdown.

“Aviation: the essence of it brings richness to your life – it’s unexplainable to most people,” La Rosa said. “It’s the beauty of it all; you have to have knowledge, and you have to master all of these facets of science and the aircraft and how it behaves.”

The spirit of traditional cowboys lives within the Fat Tire Cowboys. The same drive and intensity that is needed to protect a herd of animals or bring a crop to yield can be applied to aviation. Many of the cowboys’ adventurous spirits and passion for aviation can be traced back to their agricultural roots.

A career pilot of 33 years, Scott Lane recalls working on his family’s farm and ranch near Dimmit, Texas. While driving farm equipment at 12 years old, he remembers watching the crop dusters fly by as he sat on a tractor all day.

“I said, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” Lane recalls as he points toward the sky. “So, I went and did it.”

For others, the journey to the sky was not as simple, but the benefit of having a past in agriculture is clear. 

We are not traditional airplane people.

Koby Reed, a fifth-generation cotton farmer from Seagraves, Texas, grew up watching his grandfather fly. He loved everything about the plane – the smell, the look – but he never made the time to learn. After he realized he was nearing the end of his 30s, he wasted no more time and got his license.

Learning to pilot the skies, Reed said, was easy after growing up on a farm. After years of working on farm equipment, he possessed a deep understanding of mechanical equipment that he has carried over into aviation. Most importantly, through farming, he learned to have a determined mindset.

“Growing up on a farm, you’ve got to be out there.” Reed said. “You’ve got to make it work at the end of the year, and somehow make the crop work. That was the drive instilled in me; you’ll never quit keep going.”

Time and technology have changed the landscape of the working cowboy, but the culture and foundation remain the same. As the Fat Tire Cowboys brand grows and their audience increases, they hold on to their roots and their cowboy attitude.

“Every flight is an education,” Lane said. “Aviation is something that you learn from every flight every day.”

The future for the cowboys looks bright, but no matter what, they are enjoying each day, one flight at a time.

“That’s the fun part about it,” La Rosa said. “We have no clue, but we are enjoying the ride.”

Beyond their shared love of aviation, the cowboys share a true sense of community.

After seven years of restoration on La Rosa’s late father’s Piper Cub, a particularly bad hail storm rolled into West Texas. The massive hail punched holes through the hangar’s skylights and into the carefully painted canvas that makes up the airplane’s wings.

Surrounded by shards of plastic skylight and fragments of the Piper Cub, La Rosa stood in his cold hangar. With years of painstaking work seemingly lost, it would be easy for him to walk away from the aircraft, but giving up was not an option.

Just as a cowboy shepherds his herd in all weather – the Fat Tire Cowboys rallied together to rebuild what had been lost. Before long, the hangar was again filled with the group’s usual banter as the cowboys swept up any evidence from the disaster and got back to work.

Today, the Piper Cub again flies through the sky.

The Mentor

Kristina Butts Visiting
Butts visits with Delanie Crist, a past mentee, about their time in Washington, D.C.

From a young age, Kristina Butts was involved in the agriculture and cattle industries. Because of that background, Kristina thought she would find a job within production agriculture after she graduated. Like many students, however—because of an opportunity to intern in Washington, D.C.—those plans changed. That opportunity blossomed into years of work in D.C., but more importantly, that opportunity grew into a habit of mentoring.

“When I came to Texas Tech, I didn’t really know what my career was going to be. I just assumed I was going to find a job in the cattle industry,” Butts said while sitting in the office of Texas Tech University System Chancellor Mitchell. “If you would have told me I was going to be living in Washington, D.C., for nearly 15 years working on ag policy, I’m not even sure I could have told you what ag policy was.”

But because of a few good mentors throughout college and early in her career, Butts found her way down a completely different path. Made possible through her studies at Texas Tech and her work in D.C., she began bridging the gap between agricultural producers and the consumers they serve.

“I’m really passionate about the role models I had throughout my career who found ways to encourage me and inspire me,” Butts said.

Because of the mentors who helped her and her experiences in 4-H, FFA and Texas Beef Ambassadors, Butts found a new passion that has helped guide her career—returning the favor by becoming a mentor herself and creating more opportunities for students around her.

While many of her positions throughout her career have dealt with policy, creating opportunities for others has always become a focal point of hers.

It started when she accepted a graduate position in the animal science department back at her alma mater—Texas Tech—immediately following her congressional internship in Washington, D.C.

“I had a couple of job offers in D.C.,” Butts said, “but Texas Tech called and asked if I would be interested in a food safety research project.”

During her graduate research, Butts also worked as a graduate assistant in the Texas Tech President’s Office where she mainly worked to help expand the university’s congressional internship—the very one she had just completed.

“At the time, we only had one floor of what we call the Texas Tech house, so our program could accommodate eight students, and we wanted to grow that,” Butts said, “but we needed to grow the housing. We were able to grow up to 18 students. I worked with several presidents to expand the internship program over that three-semester program.”

Kristina’s accomplishment of expanding the Texas Tech Congressional Internship Program—creating new opportunities—during her time at the president’s office was her first real-world taste of helping others professionally.

After Kristina finished her graduate studies in animal science, she had a five-year stint as a staffer for U.S. Congressman Lamar Smith—the same place she worked during her Texas Tech congressional internship.

“I was very fortunate he was my first boss, to really kind of show me what the statesmanship really is in D.C. and how to work across lines,” Butts said with a smile.

I’m hopeful one day one of the former interns I had will hire me when I’m looking for a job in the future. I always tell them I want them to be better than me.

After learning the ropes of the political culture of Washington, D.C., Butts took a position with National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

As the lead for NCBA’s lobby team, Kristina led many high-profile events and meetings on Capitol Hill, but there was more to it than just that for her. She took great passion in reestablishing the organization’s internship program.

“When I was at NCBA, I worked to reestablish their internship program,” Butts said. “My joke was, one day I’m going to leave D.C., and when I leave, I want to make sure there’s a pipeline—some really great future minds in agriculture who understand policy, who want to come to D.C. and want to be that advocate and middle person to help support the industry.”

After eight-and-a-half years working on behalf of the U.S.’s beef producers, Kristina got a call from Texas Tech University asking her to return to the university to help set-up its federal affairs program—keeping her in Washington, D.C.

“The other hook they gave me was to help work on the Texas Tech vet school,” Butts said with a smile as she remembered that moment, “and that was a big passion of mine.”

During her time working on behalf of Texas Tech on Capitol Hill, Delanie Crist—a young woman participating in the university’s congressional internship program—met Kristina.

While in D.C., Crist said Butts was extremely helpful to the Texas Tech congressional interns—both CASNR and the president’s interns.

“The most time we spent with her was when she would bring us lunch,” Crist said. “We would eat in the [House Agriculture Committee] room and go around sharing our experiences and talking with one another.”

That experience, for Crist, allowed Butts to become a mentor for her during her time representing Texas Tech in D.C., motivating Crist to take all the opportunities she could.

“She was invested in us,” Crist said with a nod. “The lunches were something that weren’t an obligation for her, but she did it through her desires to help interns and to influence them in a positive light.”

Crist’s experience is not an outlier—it’s representative of Butts’ influence on students and interns she’s mentored throughout her career.

Even today—as the Chief of Staff for the Texas Tech University System Chancellor—she creates new opportunities to gain real-world experience for student assistants in her office.

“I’m hopeful one day one of the former interns I had will hire me when I’m looking for a job in the future,” Butts said. “I always tell them I want them to be better than me.”

Through all her work with students and interns in the past, one thing is very clear—she is invested in the future.

According to the American Psychological Association, mentors—including those found within an internship—are likely to increase professional identity, involvement in professional organizations and satisfaction with the job. Butts’ investment in the future generations through mentorship and creation of opportunities will leave a lasting impact.

“I just like finding the time to give back and help nurture the next generation, whether that’s here [at Texas Tech] professionally within higher education, politically in D.C., involved in policy or just involved in agriculture,” Butts said. “I’m just trying to get them plugged in.”

Lubbock Landscaping Redefined


hat started as a college student trying to earn money on the side has bloomed into West Texas’ oldest premiere provider of landscape design and construction. Tom’s Tree Place has re-defined the meaning of growing a business while holding onto its local roots.

Texas Tech alum and current owner of Tom’s Tree Place, Alex Scarborough, recalls his dad, Tom Scarborough, sharing the story of how the popular landscape-design company began.

“When World War II was over, my dad was headed to Texas A&M to go to forestry school there.” Scarborough said he hitch-hiked and thought he would stop by and see his Navy buddies in Lubbock. He said he got out of the truck and saw his first tumbleweed rolling across the ground.

There was a lack of admission slots due to so many veterans coming back from WWII, so the state of Texas required Texas citizenship to attend any of the universities within the state. Luckily, that did not stop Tom, the southern Mississippi native, from still attending one. 

“His buddies were getting ready to start the semester and they asked him, ‘why don’t you just go to school here?’” Alex said. “So, they went down to the admissions office with him and swore he was from some little town in Texas.” 

While Tom was attending school, he started a tree-spraying business to earn extra cash. It was not until a customer expressed how difficult it was to get in contact him without a place of business that Tom decided to purchase some property in Lubbock, Texas.

“He got a place on West 34th street, way outside of town. He came out here in 1950 and started the business on this location,” Alex said, pointing at the ground. “This is the original.”

Despite the growing popularity of landscape architecture, many people are not aware of the various roles they play. The Lubbock-based landscape design company is making it known that the landscape industry has more to offer than just jobs mowing grass.

Abbie Jones, marketing coordinator of Tom’s Tree Place, said the retail nursery is one of the many services offered by the company. 

“The retail nursery is where people come in and buy plants,” Jones explained. “It’s kind of like the do-it-yourself customers that come and get the fertilizers, garden seeds, and the plants and trees.” 

Jones said there is also the landscape architect sector of the business, where the design aspect comes into play.

“We bid projects out for jobs that are already designed, and we just offer to install them,” Jones said. 

Landscape construction comes with two different aspects: a hardscape division and a softscape division. Jones explained hardscape and softscape are the complete opposites of each other; both are necessary to make a landscape fully functional.

I think that we all think it’s important to give that back to the community.

“The hardscape sector of the business is anything that’s not living.” Jones said. “This would be the concrete pavers, brick walls, and a bunch of grading and drainage. Then we have the softscape side of the business, which is installing all the living products. The trees, the plants, the flowers all go with that.”

Whether their work has been recognized or not, almost everyone in Lubbock has seen a job done by Tom’s Tree Place. From the landscape installation at Texas Tech’s new performance center, to the re-construction of the Dairy Barn, it is hard to believe that there is someone in Lubbock who has not come across a Tom’s Tree Place project.

An often-visited development is the re-design of the Will Rodgers and Soapsuds statue on Texas Tech’s campus.

“The statue’s the same, but it used to be to where you couldn’t walk right up to it,” Jones said. “We redid the hardscape on it, so we poured all the concrete that’s around it.”

An ongoing project Tom’s Tree Place has upheld since 2000 is the maintenance and upkeep of North Overton. 

“When I went to college, students didn’t dare go off in there because it was a scary place to go,” Scarborough said. “We’re really proud with how that’s turned out, it’s changed that whole area of town. It’s just a nice place to live now, well-lit sidewalks, good bus connection, a lot of bicycling. The whole neighborhood is pretty neat.”

Tom’s Tree Place is also responsible for the re-design of the fountain and planting the trees at the Broadway and University Avenue entrance to Texas Tech. Jones, who graduated in 2011 from Texas Tech with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications before she worked for Tom’s, said she is most proud of the beautification of the campus. 

“That was just a really cool project to be a part of because Texas Tech is so near and dear to my heart,” Jones said, “and it’s cool to see our stamp around campus and contribution to the beautification of it.”

Not only does Tom’s Tree Place deal with commercial landscape construction, but they are also engaged with the community in a variety of ways. Since 2014, Tom’s Tree Place has hosted an annual Easter egg hunt. This event was created to encourage kids in the neighborhood to have a fun, safe egg hunt.

“The egg hunt is a fun event to get our neighborhood involved with the business,” Jones stated. “I think that we all think it’s important to give that back to the community and the egg hunt is the one that gives back to this actual neighborhood the most.”

When it comes to challenges the company faces, Jones said the biggest one is keeping themselves relevant to the community.

“A challenge is how to keep yourself relevant, but not to the point where you’re only focused on the bottom line,” Jones said, “but you’re also focused on the community and your positive impact on the community.” 

Diamond in the Rough

Lauren and Shelley Heinrich
Lauren Heinrich (Left) and Shelley Heinrich (Right) use every opportunity they have to advocate for agriculture. They use their event venue as a tool to share about West Texas agriculture.

helley and Lauren Heinrich never planned on owning and running a wedding venue, however when they found the Kitalou Gin everything fell into place.

Rediscovering Kitalou 

The Kitalou Gins last year of operation was 1974. From Kitalou’s last crop year the gin was used as a scrapyard. It was left for ruins until 2017 when it was found and restored by the Heinrich family. The Heinrich’s are cotton farmers from Slaton, Texas.

The Kitalou Gin was built in 1925 when communities ginned their own cotton. Located right outside of Idalou, Texas, Kitalou was placed adjacent to a railroad for convenient distribution of freshly ginned cotton. Due to the gins proximity to the railroad, it is said the gin was named after a railroader’s daughter.

In 2017, Shelley Heinrich had a pumpkin business which was booming, and she needed space to store her abundance of pumpkins. Her daughter, Lauren, suggested using an abandoned gin, because so many are scattered around small West Texas towns.

The mother-daughter duo started looking around at perspective properties when Shelley’s husband, Burt, proposed the Kitalou Gin, just minutes from downtown Lubbock.

“Up close, just driving by, it looked like a junk yard,” Shelley said.

The yard was full of old equipment and dead trees. In some places the gin was full to the ceiling with old deteriorating equipment. Despite the looks of the gin, the building was in great shape.

Shelley and Lauren decided to take on the project, spending every spare moment they had cleaning out the old gin.

“We’ve got the equipment and the gumption to do it,” Lauren said.

The Heinrich’s farm and have a lot of equipment, which allowed Shelley and Lauren to do a lot of the work themselves. As a family, the Heinrichs spent nine months cleaning and restoring the gin.

“We’re not only a good mother-daughter team, but good partners.”

Shelley and Lauren did not originally plan to turn the gin into a wedding venue, but the more they cleaned the more they realized the gin was meant to be so much more than a warehouse to store pumpkins.

“It was like overwhelming chaos, because there was so much that we could do,” Shelley said.

Throughout the process one vision remained – to maintain the integrity and authenticity of the gin.

Unexpected Wedding Planners

Lauren said before finding Kitalou, being a wedding coordinator never crossed her mind.

“We have the skill set,” Shelley said, “we just never had the facility.”

The two have backgrounds in event planning, but nothing quite like wedding planning.

Before owning and running the Kitalou Gin, Shelley had a career in the finance industry and retired in 2011. However, her retirement did not last long. In 2013 she went back to work, but this time for commodity organizations, spending a few years with National Sorghum Producers before moving on to her current position with the Cotton Board. Lauren worked for the Texas Cattle Feeders Association and then for a local congressman. In these roles, Shelley and Lauren gained skills in event coordination.

The Heinrichs runs every event themselves. From setting up to tearing down, they are there doing it all. On the day of an event, the family is there parking cars or helping with coordination. At the end of the night, they all get together to clean up the gin.

“When we started, our only goal was getting the bride down the aisle and after that we figured the rest out,” Lauren said.

The first wedding at Kitalou was for a family friend who asked to use the gin for her wedding. The definite timeline of this wedding helped motivate Shelley and Lauren to finish this project.

Even though the two cleaned on the gin for nine months, they were still picking up nails and pieces of metal out of the yard until the day of the first wedding.

A Unique Take on Agriculture 

Despite the disarray of the property, Shelley and Lauren decided to purchase the Kitalou Gin because of its unique location. Only minutes from downtown Lubbock, the location is convenient while still surrounded by farmland. Being surrounded by agriculture gives the Heinrichs a unique opportunity to share about West Texas agriculture.

Kitalou clients are drawn to the unique look and location of the gin.

“I grew up working in the feed yard riding the pens, working cattle, so growing up like that then going out to Kitalou and being surrounded by the farmland and cattle I just fell in love and felt at home”Bride Averye Ferris said.

Kitalou couples tend to come from agricultural backgrounds, however, their guests do not always share that likeness. Because the gin is surrounded by agriculture, with cattle and sheep across the road, lends to great conversations.

“If we’re not telling the story, then who is?” Shelley asked.

Shelley and Lauren have spent many hours at events educating guests on farming in West Texas. They will answer any questions guests have from genetically modified organisms use to water conservation.

As agriculture continues to progress, the Kitalou Gin will become more important to preserve. With the advances in agriculture small gins will become obsolete making Kitalou that much more important.

Mother Daughter Team

“We’re not only a good mother-daughter team, but good partners,” Shelley said.

They can each relate to their customers. Lauren was recently a bride and can understand their needs while Shelley understands the mothers and their perspective. Having their different perspectives helps with problem solving and creating the shared vision of the bride and her mom.

“We take the burden off the families backs and handle everything so they can sit back, relax and enjoy the day,” Lauren said.

Shelley and Lauren encourage their clients to be as creative as possible when dreaming up their big day.

“We’ve already been creative with restoring a gin, now it’s their turn,” said Lauren.

Leaving a Longhorn Legacy

Classy Lady poses for a picture at golden hour.

With a population of 40,000, Cooke County, Texas is a traditionally agricultural focused part of the state. With a blend of production agriculture and the oil industry, something that stands out among the rest is a herd of iconic Texas staples, the Texas Longhorns.

Based in Era, Texas, Scott and Stacey Schumacher, along with son, Stran, and daughter, Selah, stay busy with many endeavors in and out of the agriculture industry, including raising Longhorns.

“When people outside of the agriculture industry think of cows, they think of either Holsteins or Longhorns, so we have done everything to build a brand that captures the novelty that people have with Longhorns,” Stacey said.

Scott is a fourth generation Cooke County farmer and rancher. He was born and raised in Cooke County then attended Texas Tech University and received a degree in agricultural business. After graduation, he returned to Era to continue his work with his family’s farming and ranching operation. 

“Our operation utilizes a lot of land around Cooke County, including leases,” Stacey said. 

Scott and Stacey were married in 2010 and grew their family when their son, Stran, was born in 2013 and daughter, Selah, in 2018.

The Schumachers run a commercial cow-calf operation and also purchase commercial calves at local sale barns to finish out on wheat pastures as a backgrounder operation. To create more value within their herd, they are starting to switch their commercial cattle to registered Angus to enter the Angus bull sector of the industry.

Scott also started a custom chemical spraying company, S&S Enterprises, where he chemically treats pastures and crops. “S&S Enterprises showcases how chemistry can help shape the future of farming and ranching, and ultimately allow farmers and ranchers to efficiently feed the world,” Scott added.

Additionally, he harvests various crops including hay, corn, milo, and wheat for both cattle grazing and combining for grain. 

In addition, Stacey is the founder and Executive Director of the Texas Coalition of Animal Protection. “TCAP is a non-profit organization that provides low cost spays and neuters for cats and dogs as well as low cost vaccines,” Stacey said. The coalition has seven standalone clinics and contracts with numerous cities to do spays and neuters on-site. 

Before Scott and Stacey met, she needed something to get an agricultural tax-exemption at her home.  She was not interested in purchasing something for that would end up on grocery store shelf, but rather something that could be enjoyed for years to come. She loved the look and the ease of keeping of the Longhorns, and she decided they would be a perfect fit for her home.

            After their marriage, the Schumachers decided to keep growing their Longhorn program. The Schumachers sell their calves after weaning or when the animal doesn’t fit their operation’s needs. Since they sell many of their calves at weaning, the Schumachers purchase cows to continue their personal cow herd growth and improve genetics.

            Stacey said Longhorns can be more profitable than commercial cattle if they are marketed correctly. 

            “Social media changed the cattle industry for everyone, but for the Longhorn industry, it really opened up a new market,” Stacey said. 

            A big market they reach with their Longhorns is the homeowners who are moving to 10-to 20-acre plots wanting something that is easy to keep and to provide visual appeal to the land. Stacey said that as long as that market continues to grow, so will their Longhorn business. 

It is super important for people to know that agricultural producers work hard for them and they do that with a lot of pride.

The Schumacher Cattle Facebook page has 265,000 followers watching for updated pictures of calves, daily chores in the operation, or the beloved “Hey Scott!” video segments that highlight various tasks completed by farmers and ranchers, such as vaccinating, tubing and treating cattle. 

“Not being a native country person, I asked Scott a lot of questions when we met.  Through Facebook, I figured out the questions that I was asked a long time ago, people were still asking today,” Stacey said.

While engaging with others on the Facebook page is not Scott’s favorite part of the job, Stacey saw the need to answer questions and show people about their way of life.

The Schumachers use the Facebook platform to sell their Longhorns, inform followers about the breed, and advocate for the beef and agriculture industries. 

Building a brand around the importance of agriculture and the Longhorn industry has been important for the success of their operations.

“It is vital that people know agricultural producers work hard for them and they do that with a lot of pride,” Stacey said. “We have done everything we can to inform people where their food comes from. We want people to know that ranchers do not abuse their animals or the land, but they work really hard to maximize all the things that they can to create a sustainable product.”

Scott and Stacey have seen their son become extremely interested in the equipment they use like tractors and sprayers, and hope that their daughter, Selah, will have an interest in their way of life, too. 

“My hope is that they continue in this industry, just like Scott did,” Stacey said. “We are aiming for longhorns in every pasture,” Stacey joked when asked where the operation will be in 10 years.

5-year-old, Stran, proudly displays his “My Daddy Feeds You” shirt while helping feed cows.

Reducing uncertainty on the Southern High Plains


arming practices on the Southern High Plains, and more specifically a farmer’s choice of whether or not to change them, are affected by irrigation methods and crop insurance.

Dr. Darren Hudson of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics is the graduate director and helps put together funding for research.

Dr. Hudson said, “We have students from all over doing research that impacts this area.”

Jorge Romero-Habeych is not your traditional student, he served in the Army and worked as an analyst in the natural gas industry before returning to school. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from the University of Central Florida. As a doctoral student in Agricultural and Applied Economics, Romero-Habeych’s research explores how farmers choose irrigation techniques.

Agriculture on the Southern High Plains was significantly impacted by the introduction of center pivot irrigation.

 “Prior to the center pivot in the 1990s, … irrigation was very inefficient,” Romero-Habeych said.

By adopting center pivots farmers were able to sustain yields while using less water.

In recent years farmers have had the option of adopting an even more efficient alternative, subsurface drip irrigation. Adopting efficient irrigation techniques along with the right kind of crop insurance is essential for farmers to reduce their exposure to risk.

“Why is it that we don’t see a wider implementation of this technology in the area?” Romero-Habeych asked. “My theory is that crop insurance in conjunction with already existing irrigation techniques might be making drip irrigation less attractive,” Romero-Habeych said. “On the margin, adopting drip is relatively expensive and the benefit in terms of risk reduction is likely not worth the cost.”

In terms of water use, wider adoption of drip irrigation by farmers on the Southern High Plains does not necessarily translate to less pressure on the Ogallala aquifer. Romero-Habeych made an interesting point on the issue.

“Past experience with the center pivot shows that its adoption led to more water use. Farmers actually started using more water than before because they started planting in fields that had previously not been economically attractive,” Romero-Habeych said.

Using the most efficient farming practices possible is vital for all farmer’s to continue production and not give up yields.

“Perhaps drip irrigation would be more widely adopted in the area if existing crop insurance choices were not made available. The combination of current insurance and irrigation options to reduce risk exposure might be crowding out drip,” Romero-Habeych said. “However, that might be a good outcome for the aquifer.”

How farmers on the Southern High Plains are affected by government policies, along with understanding how they use the tools at their disposal to reduce uncertainty, is what drives Romero-Habeych’s research.

Hofstetter Takes the Reins as New Rodeo Coach


n the past 12 years, Jerrad Hofstetter has worked to strengthen the caliber of rodeo athletes in the Lubbock area by hosting clinics and training students. However, when an opening came up for the position of Texas Tech’s rodeo coach, Hofstetter was hesitant to apply.

He worked diligently to fill the open position of Texas Tech’s rodeo coach before deciding to go for it himself.

“A friend of mine, Jennifer Brazil, who ran the equestrian center last year goes to church with me, and she asked me to help find a rodeo coach,” Hofstetter said.

Shaking his head, Hofstetter said he must have called 15-20 people who he believed were qualified for the position and was turned down by each of them.

“My wife ended up telling Jennifer behind my back that I wanted the job,” Hofstetter said, “but I’ll be really honest and say I don’t have a degree, so I never applied.”

Hofstetter said Brazil convinced him to apply and shortly after he was named the new Texas Tech Rodeo coach.

“It’s been a blessing being here,” Hofstetter said. “The kids are absolutely amazing. The people I work with are amazing. This really is a neat, neat program that we have out here.”

No stranger to the highly competitive world of rodeo, the first-year coach qualified for the National Finals Rodeo on three separate occasions before retiring.

According to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas is widely acknowledged as the world’s premier rodeo, which showcases the best rodeo athletes in the world each year.

“I have been fortunate in my career to have seen what it takes to win, and the kids out here are outstanding, but a lot of them haven’t been around somebody that understands how to get to that next level,” Hofstetter said. “This year’s been a huge learning experience for a lot of them.”

Kim Lindsey, the director of the Texas Tech Equestrian Center, said Hofstetter has made an impact on every part of the equestrian center, not just the rodeo team.

“I think Jerrad is probably the best thing that’s ever happened to the Texas Tech Rodeo program,” Lindsey said. “It takes a special individual to be a great coach, and I think we’ve found ours.”

Lindsey said Hofstetter is a team player and has fostered a sense of unity between the four teams housed in the equestrian center: rodeo, ranch horse, equestrian and horse judging.

“We’re all one big team, and if we work like that, we can get more done and be more successful,” Lindsey said.

Hofstetter and Lindsey both agreed the best part of working at the equestrian center is the students. 

“It’s really fulfilling to get to see these kids, especially a freshman, come in and get to see them mature the four years they are here,” Lindsey said.

Lindsey said the whole purpose of what they do is to produce outstanding individuals and build the character of the students.

“A lot of our rodeo kids become professionals, then they go on and do other great things,” Lindsey said. “You have to think about it. If they are going to school and doing all this too, they are pretty driven.”

Hofstetter beamed with pride as he talked about the students on the rodeo team.

“The strongest part about the rodeo team is the character of the kids that are on it,” Hofstetter said.

The 2018-2019 Texas Tech Rodeo Team

In his role, Hofstetter has made sure the students on the rodeo team, even with their busy schedules, are giving back to the Lubbock community.

“We’ve done a lot of community service,” Hofstetter said. “Right before the year started, we laid 1,500 feet of water lines. We put on a rodeo for kids with special needs, and then for Christmas, we went to the children’s hospital and helped make cookies with them.”

Hofstetter said the rodeo program is centered around the students and everything they do starts with the students.

“We are actually not funded by the university,” Hofstetter said. “We are the only school in our region, which is the biggest and toughest region in the country, that is not a part of the school’s sports program. We are like a club.”

Hofstetter pointed out the students have to raise money for everything the rodeo team does and all the gear they need.

“The strongest part about the rodeo team is the character of the kids that are on it.”

“They go out to local businesses, and we’ve been very fortunate,” Hofstetter said. “The local community has been outstanding this year. We’re trying to get past alumni involved and just get this program back on the map.”

Hofstetter stressed the equestrian center and rodeo team can move forward in multiple ways with more notoriety and more involvement from the community and alumni.

“I’ve got a lot of things that I’m pushing for,” Hofstetter said. “We want the whole town to know about us, and we also want to win. We’ve got the talent.”

Hofstetter said they need more seats, stalls and plug-ins at the facility in order to have more events.

“It’s funny because there are a lot of people in Lubbock that don’t realize we have a college rodeo team,” Hofstetter said. “Students right there on campus, they don’t even know we exist. That’s really a shame.”     

“There are too many great things going on out here to be overlooked, and it gets overlooked,” Lindsey said. “We’d just like to share that with everybody. I think we’ve only scratched the surface.”

Lubbock Chamber of Commerce: Helping Farmers and Ranchers Since 1910


icture this: the scene opens on the young city of Lubbock circa 1910. The Lubbock Commercial Club – now the Chamber of Commerce – created its agriculture committee to partner with Crosbyton, Texas to build a railway between the two cities. Then fast forward six years to 1916, the club creates a film to recruit farmers in Lubbock County to support the railway. The Commercial Club was also instrumental in creating the South Plains Fair, “the granddaddy of West Texas fairs.”

The Lubbock Chamber of Commerce’s agriculture committee has continually taken care of the farmers and ranchers in and around Lubbock County. The partnership with the City of Crosbyton was for the good of farmers in both cities so their seed, grain and cattle trades could happen on a broader scale. Without the committee advocating for the railroad, the cities of Crosbyton and Lubbock would not have had the opportunity to grow because of improvements to agriculture.

Since then, the Commercial Club has been renamed to the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce; however, the agriculture committee remains the same and is the longest standing committee in the chamber. The committee shares their knowledge of agriculture with schools in Lubbock County with Ag in the Classroom and shares it with members of the community through Ag in the Bag. Norma Ritz Johnson, executive vice president of the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce, knows the importance of the agriculture committee their goal is to advocate and inform the public about agriculture.

“Keeping the business owners and those that are involved in restaurants involved in agriculture is so important,” Johnson said. “Some of our chamber members don’t understand what all goes on in ag, but if you asked them about the farm bill they could at least tell you why it’s important.”

With over 100 years of experience in advocacy and education with agriculture, the chamber’s agriculture committee continues to do what is best for the Lubbock agricultural community. Because of events like Ag in the Bag and Ag in the Classroom, the committee is building a community that is more educated in agriculture than previous generations. Former USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack says that people are three generations removed from the farm. According to a Family and Consumer Sciences high school teacher, children grow up believing their milk comes from the store and not a cow or that eggs come from out of the ground.

The committee is a diverse assemblage of people made up of seed companies and other agriculture businesses. The main purposes of the committee are for people in the agriculture industry to network with one another and learn about changes in the world of agriculture. Every month the committee meets and discusses what is going on in Lubbock agriculture.

During their meeting in March 2019 Carol Faulkenberry, a region I representative from the Texas Department of Agriculture, spoke about Continental Dairy Facilities Southwest building, a processing facility in Littlefield, Texas. Faulkenberry discussed Levelland Plastics accepting the Texas Capital Fund and HEB hosting their Quest for the Best contest.

“HEB is one of our Go Texan members and they are looking for Texas products in their stores,” Faulkenberry said. “We had 14 individuals that came in and several were Go Texan members who were trying a new market.”

Johnson said the committee invites a meteorologist to some meetings to give some insight as to what producers can expect in the year to come. She also said advocacy on the farm bill and water policy is especially important to the committee. Johnson said small businesses in Lubbock may not know the specifics about what is going on in the legislature, but the committee wants them to know how important agriculture is to their business.

The Lubbock Chamber of Commerce has a saddle that was hand made by inmates of the Texas Prison System.

Known as the Hub City, Lubbock has always been a place for farmers and ranchers from all parts of West Texas to get their necessary ag-related products.

“One third of taxes are paid by people who do not live in Lubbock,” Johnson said.

From equipment and seed stores all the way to something as small as PVC collars needed to repair a water line – Lubbock has the exact parts needed to maintain a farm or ranch.

Which is why I’ve always thought of Lubbock not as a metroplex, but as more of an agri-plex.

The Chamber’s agriculture committee has been one of the longest contributors to the success of Lubbock’s agriculture industry. The actions of the original agriculture committee have shaped the way agriculture is advocated in Lubbock today. The committee continues to strive toward educating everyone it comes in contact with about what is true and what is a myth when it comes to current agriculture practices. Each member thinks of themselves as an ambassador for agriculture and wants to send out the correct message about today’s agricultural practices and hot-button issues.

Advocating for the Corn Industry, One Crop at a Time

Max Swinburn
Max Swinburn in a leader throughout his community when it corn farming.

ax Swinburn has been farming for over 30 years. He’s seen the highs and the lows and has persist. He has done the best he can, and it shows as he is the farmer that others look to for advice and information on the newest technology and techniques. He is a humble and quiet leader throughout his many communities according to David Gibson, the executive director of Texas Corn Producers.

Swinburn grew up in Tulia, Texas, where his parents, who were both teachers, started farming cotton on the side. He and his brother would help in the summer until they both went to Texas Tech University after growing up Red Raiders. Swinburn graduated from Texas Tech in 1967 with a degree in agronomy and continued his education at the University of Wisconsin. He later went on to start farming near Tulia and continues to support Texas Tech and the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

“I’m a Red Raider, through and through,” Swinburn said.

Over the years, Swinburn has farmed corn and cotton, rotating them every season. He currently farms about half corn and half cotton on his land, but it depends on how much water is available during the season. Swinburn picked up farming corn by himself and has grown a variety of corn including yellow and white. The Texas Panhandle is a corn deficit region, which means there is not much corn grown in the area. In order for money to be saved, growing locally is the best option compared to shipping in corn from the Midwest to feed livestock or sell at the store.

In 2001, Swinburn was elected to serve on the Texas Corn Producers Board, which is headquartered in Lubbock. Texas Corn Producers advocates for the state’s corn farmers through an association and a checkoff. He is currently on his third term and has contributed immensely over his years of service according to many involved with Texas Corn Producers. He has contributed to the research, education and promotion of corn throughout the state of Texas.

“It’s a checkoff board, so we get money from every bushel of corn sold, and our job is to use the money wisely for the corn farmers of Texas,” Swinburn said.

Swinburn works closely with other members of the board, all who are from the Panhandle area. David Gibson has known Max for over 30 years. He has seen Max work on multiple research committees, serve as the U.S. Grains Council delegate for Texas Corn Producers and be involved in other matters that promote, sell and grow corn.

Max has been a leader and an inspiration to his neighbors and a lot of young farmers as well as his family.

During his time on the research committee, Swinburn was a part of a team that dealt with aflatoxin and how to help growers manage it on their farms. Aflatoxin is toxic chemical produced by mold that attacks crops such as corn. He has been able to help keep the research going as it is becoming a critical issue, not only in Texas, but the rest of the United States.

Swinburn was also on another team that handled a fumonisin outbreak back in 2017. Fumonisin is a mycotoxin that attacks corn in a similar way as aflatoxin. Swinburn was in a leadership role that allowed him to work with the regulations that came about from the outbreak. He’s been on multiple other research teams, including working with ethanol and Texas Cattle Feeders Association.

Max Swinburn has been growing corn for years and is at the forefront of new technology. Image courtesy of Texas Corn Producers.

It is important for farmers with substantial experience, like Swinburn, to serve on boards such as at Texas Corn Producers, because it gives insight to what the industry currently looks like as well as the challenges farmers face. Like most farmers, Swinburn has seen his fair amount of hardship over the years. Whether it is water shortages, drought, market changes or weather, Max has found a way to endure and have a successful farm throughout the years.

Throughout his farming career, Swinburn has become someone who other farmers listen to and take notice. He is not afraid to try new technology and has been at the forefront of corn farming with his ability to adapt to the next best practice and technique according to Gibson. One of the biggest compliments a farmer can get is being someone who others follow in their farming and who adapt their practices and techniques. Swinburn is the type of farmer that when he talks, everyone else sits back and listens said Gibson.

“Max has been a leader and an inspiration to his neighbors and a lot of young farmers as well as his family,” Gibson said.

Though Swinburn has run a successful farm over the years, when asked what his greatest accomplishment is, he praises his family above all else. He mentions his wife, Doris, who holds their family together and his kids who have come back to help him on the farm.

While looking to the future, Swinburn does not see himself planting anything other than corn, cotton and possibly grain sorghum. He thinks every year he needs to retire, but the thought comes and goes as one of his favorite things is to watch crops grow to see his work bring satisfaction.

Though Swinburn’s farm is smaller compared to the larger corporate farms, he said the trend of larger farms will continue in order to provide for the market.

“I think there will always be someone to farm the land,” Swinburn said.

Planning the Fire: Dr. Verble’s Prescribed Burning Class Blazes a Trail

The prescribed burn class has their very own fire engine which they take on trips to conduct prescribed burns.

Throughout history, fire, in its physical form or just its idea, has developed a bad rap. Never mind the fact it provided warmth and a heat source to cook for ancient people, but do mind the devastation it can cause. The Texas Panhandle fires in May 2017 that took the lives of seven still burn in our memories. Driving down the road and seeing “EXTREME WILDFIRE DANGER,” on one of TXDOT’s big message boards brings chills to our spine as we think of the lives, livestock and spirit lost, but somehow simultaneously strengthened.

Fire is not all bad though –indigenous people who first inhabited the Americas knew that. After leaving their hunting and gathering ways and transitioning to a more agrarian lifestyle, they realized the importance fire served in helping their lands sustain the vegetables and grains they relied on. These days, producers carry on this knowledge and frequently conduct prescribed burns. A prescribed burn is a fire intentionally ignited and organized to follow a predetermined plan in accordance with National Environmental Policy Act.

Burning Brighter and Brighter

Dr. Robin Verble, assistant professor in the Department of Natural Resource Management at Texas Tech University, understands and addresses the fears people have in regard to fire, but stresses how to conduct prescribed burns safely and effectively.

“People are fearful of fire outside of a fireplace,” Verble said. “It’s always scared people because it has the potential to cause loss of economics and loss of life.”

Outside the hearth, the practical and beneficial uses of fire abound. It allows nutrient-filled new vegetation to spring up from the ground. The rejuvenating effects of fire also help to aid producers in improving soil quality. Prescribed burning also prevents dreaded wildfires. Without vegetation to burn, a spark will lack the fuel to spread, or be met by new, green plants which lack the dryness necessary to be a viable fuel source.

Verble, who is a native of French Lick, Indiana, is teaching the next generation of fire starters to responsibly utilize its power in her courses, NRM 3323 and 5323. Despite the fact the class isn’t specifically required to complete any degrees within the department, it is undisputedly the most sought after course offered among NRM students. She already has a waitlist filled with prospective students for 2019.

While no pre-requisite courses must be satisfied in order to take the class, Verble’s approval is required. Approval is gained through an application designed to help gauge a prospective student’s goals and intentions should they take the course, and more importantly, their dedication to the measures of safety required.

“I want someone who is really excited about the safety and the work,” Verble said. “It’s about 90 percent of what we do.”

People are fearful of fire outside of a fireplace.

A Legacy of Excellence in Fire Ecology

The class didn’t start with Verble’s arrival at Texas Tech in 2014. Dr. Henry Wright, who pioneered plethoras of modern fire ecology theories and practices, developed the course after he began teaching at Tech in 1967. He is and will be forever hailed for his hands-on, experiential learning approach. His legacy and expertise still shine through the course.

“I am teaching this class with the ‘Henry Wright spirit,’” Verble said. “We’re getting out and burning, both with private and public landowners. We’re giving students hands-on experience in range burning.”

Dr. Robin Verble
Dr. Robin Verble loads up the fire engine in preparation for a burn exercise.

A Family Atmosphere

Verble’s passion for teaching others about fire ecology began during her time at The University of Southern Indiana. While there, the instructor of introduction to fire ecology course taught lessons on wildland fire. Wildland fires are non-structure fires that are not prescribed and take place in a rural area. Her interest didn’t grow solely in the lecture hall, though. At the same time, she was beginning to learn about the concepts that would shape her career, her then-boyfriend and now-husband, Seth Pearson, had just joined a fire crew. Together, they would talk about the innumerable new things they were learning and studying.

The fire ecology network spans far beyond Verble and her husband, who is currently a wildlife biologist in Ralls, Texas. In addition to the prescribed burning course, she also helps organize a trip to send upper-level students who are interested in a career in fire on an expedition across the country, where they develop industry contacts while using different methods to burn. Verble said conducting a prescribed burn is an art – everyone does it a little differently, depending on the regulatory entity supervising the burn and background of the person burning.

“Fire is one of those super family atmospheres, where I know somebody who knows somebody,” Verble said while laughing. “We tend to stay really close-knit.”

Goals and Objectives

In addition to working toward familiarizing students with the basic concepts of prescribed burning, planning and fire management, a secondary goal of the prescribed burning class is for students to gain certification through the National Wildfire Coordinating Group’s Type II Wildland Firefighting program. After receiving this certification, students are better qualified to work for a forest or park service.

One of the steps necessary to gain Type II certification is passing the “arduous pack test,” that requires students to complete a 3-mile hike in 45 minutes, all while carrying a 45-pound backpack. First-year graduate student Courtney Jasik, from Mertzon, Texas, recently took and passed the pack test with five seconds to spare.

“I’ll be so sore tomorrow,” said Jasik, as she powered through the third and final mile of the hike. Jasik, while keeping an open mind in regard to where her career will lead, she dreams of working as a rangeland management specialist.

“It’s extremely challenging, but also reminds me of how important fitness is in most [natural resource management] pursuits,” Jasik said.

Classmates prepare to travel to the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch in Roby, Texas to conduct a prescribed burn.

Blazing a Trail

Many students who take the course aren’t ditching their rubber-soled boots and leather gloves on the last day, though. Students who show initiative, interest and talent often stay on another semester to be a teaching assistant for the class.

“I think most of the time [students] take the class and fall in love with it,” Verble said. Students often seek not only summer internships, but full-time careers in fire ecology and firefighting.

The spring of 2018 proved to be another tumultuous season with the constant risk of a disastrous wildfires burning ominously bright. Much of Tech’s next generation of land conservationists will go through Verble’s class. As students within Texas Tech University’s Department of Natural Resource Management, they will employ countless practices, including prescribed burning, to be dedicated stewards of the land.

Now, if we could just get some more rain.

Beyond City Lights: Catherine Lechnars’ Journey to Texas Tech

Exhausted and anxious Catherine Lechnar glances down at her phone. It is 5:54 p.m., and Cinco Ranch FFA has only six minutes to spare before the Texas State FFA award ceremony begins. Unfamiliar with the Texas Tech University campus, the high school students wander lost and looking for the livestock arena. Before the contest results are announced, the students rush in the door and find a seat.

Lechnar and her entomology team would go on to claim the second place spot at the state competition, however, this would not be her last memory at Texas Tech.

Lechnar, who is a daughter of a nurse and AT&T Inc. tester, didn’t have a tie to agriculture or Texas Tech, but she followed her own interests and chose the university so she could study in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. Lechnar is now conducting her own research based on entomology.

The start of her agricultural journey

Now a 19-year-old, Lechnar began her FFA journey as a freshman in high school. With the choice of band or agricultural education and a dream of raising a pig, Lechnar chose FFA. Little did she know the long-term impact the program would have on her life. Lechnar said for the next four years her FFA involvement was her main focus and took up all of her extracurricular time.

“FFA takes up a lot of time at my school, and I’m sure it does at others too, so that’s what I chose to focus on,” Lechnar said.

She competed in the chapter conducting, quiz, radio and entomology contests. Lechnar quickly realized her interest in entomology and found quick success in the career development event. Her team was just points away from a state title both her junior and senior years.

With the freedom to follow her own dreams, Lechnar decided to go to Texas Tech. She said she would not have even known about Texas Tech if it was not for the FFA State Entomology Contest held on campus in the spring. It was then she met Scott Longing, Ph.D., assistant professor of entomology in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

“It is important to provide opportunities like FFA programs and facilitate them to nurture and expose students that otherwise wouldn’t know much about agriculture,” Longing said.

Longing said hosting FFA contests is a great tool to allow faculty to meet talented prospective students who are interested in studying what they have learned so much about through FFA. Over the past few years, Longing has used that networking to give students like Lechnar an opportunity to get involved in entomology research. Without connections to FFA, Longing said he would not have met some of the greatest students he works with today.

Despite touring other schools, Lechnar said Texas Tech felt like home to her.

“When I came here I felt really welcomed,” Lechnar said, “I felt like the people really wanted to talk to me personally.”

Going above and beyond at Texas Tech

Since starting at Texas Tech during the fall 2017, Lechnar has started her own research project that will continue for the next four years and hopefully be a published study. Lechnar said with Longing’s guidance they formed the idea for her research and worked together to get a project started.

Lechnar uses a vacuum to collect pollinator insects from pollen bearing plants to evaluate how pollinator population density changes throughout the seasons. This research will help form restoration strategies for the High Plains in order to rebuild insect habitats needed for farming operations.

“By linking plants to pollinators, we can really begin to understand very specifically what pollinators are being effected by what we plant,” Longing said. “What Catherine will do is help to build a foundation of what we know about pollinator biodiversity and the habitat resources that they use.”

Lechnar said even in her preliminary research they have found different results than they expected. At the start of her research in October, she collected a sample of five insects; toward the end of the winter season she recorded a sample of near 80 insects.

“We thought there would be a decline in the number of pollinators because it was getting colder, and they would die,” Lechnar said, “but we ended up seeing the density increase because there were less flowers for them to go to.”

Catherine Lechnar’s research is guided by Dr. Longing, who has encouraged her to get a head-start on undergraduate research.

After submitting her abstract, Lechnar received approval to present her preliminary research poster “Preliminary assessment of late-season insect communities occurring on flowering plants in a semi-arid region” at the Center for Active Learning and Undergraduate Engagement conference in March. Not only is Lechnar already involved in undergraduate research as a freshman, but she also hopes to attend graduate school and eventually get her Ph.D.

“The way I see it, if I start early, then I’ll be ahead later,” Lechnar said.

The FFA mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. Today, FFA strives to help the next generation rise up to meet new agricultural challenges by helping members develop their own unique talents and explore their interests in a broad range of career pathways. FFA opened a door for Lechnar and sparked an interest she otherwise may not have come across living in the city.

“It is important for everyone to take a look at what they don’t know and take on new experiences to learn,” Longing said.

It is important for everyone to take a look at what they don’t know and take on new experiences to learn.

Studying conservation science, Lechnar said she offers a unique understanding of current issues because of her new knowledge of the agriculture industry and her passion for conservation. Her dream is to save the mangrove forests, and she said she finds it crucial to understand agriculture’s role to do so.

“I like that I am in the middle, and I am able to see both sides,” Lechnar said, “it gives me a lot of different insight.”

Lechnar said she is the only one in her family who has taken a career path in the agriculture industry, but she has big aspirations and plans to make a difference. She advises incoming students to fully dive into their interests and passions but not to be discouraged should their plans change.

“Sometimes you just need to sit down and think about what you want and not what the other people around you are telling you to do,” Lechnar said.

Lechnar said a lot has changed since she was one of many high school FFA competitors visiting Texas Tech, and she is happy with her decision to follow her dreams.

“All I really remembered about Texas Tech when we came for FFA was always getting lost,” Lechnar said, “but now that I’m studying here I can’t imagine any other place being better.”

Raider Wardens

Texas Tech University, South Plains College and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department cooperatively worked together to develop the Bachelor of Science in Conservation Law Enforcement, a one-of-a-kind exclusive degree program that can only be obtained from Texas Tech.

Robert Cox, Ph.D., associate professor for the Department of Natural Resources Management and primary advisor for the conservation law enforcement students, said the program is making an impact in the wildlife management industry.

“We have been seeing an increase in the success of getting students in the program to the game warden academy, which means that Texas Tech graduates will now start being farmed out across the state as game wardens, managing the interaction between people and wildlife,” Cox said.

The program requires an associate’s degree in criminal justice from a two-year institution, such as South Plains College. Once students have completed their associate’s degree and begin the conservation law enforcement program at Texas Tech, they then take a series of wildlife courses, such as wildlife management, wildlife anatomy or waterfowl management. Cox said students in those courses learn how to observe, manage and identify wildlife species.

“Think about a game warden,” Cox said, “let’s say they come across a deer carcass. They need to know how to identify what kind of animal that is, how old the animal was, how it was killed, or whether it has evidence of disease, and those are the kinds of things they are learning here.”

The program features courses taught by game wardens in the region. The game wardens instruct students in the conservation law enforcement program on how to be a game warden.

Ride-along hours are required for the program in order for students to get a real experience of the daily life of a game warden. The program prefers the ride-along hours be with a current game warden, but students can complete their hours with any law enforcement official, such as city or state police or even a justice of the peace. Cox said students soon realize law enforcement involves a lot of downtime and paperwork with brief moments of excitement.

The distinguished Texas Game Warden Training Academy is a very competitive program with only 15 to 20 cadets being accepted each year out of hundreds of applicants. There is a rigorous application procedure that includes testing, a series of interviews, background checks, and physical and psychological evaluations. He said Texas Tech generally has one or two students accepted into the academy annually, and most applicants apply for several years before they are accepted.

Preston Kleman, a 2014 Texas Tech graduate from the conservation law enforcement program, is a Texas game warden in Lamb, Bailey, and Cochran counties. Kleman said the program helped him in unique ways that cadets from other programs did not experience prior to entering the game warden academy. Kleman said he had already been introduced to a large portion of the material they went over in the academy because of the thorough curriculum in the conservation law enforcement degree program.

Conservation law enforcement students sit in on a classroom session focused on force training and tactics when dealing with non-cooperating individuals.

“Not everybody had a criminal justice or wildlife degree in the academy,” Kleman said. “Some of the others had teaching degrees and came from varying backgrounds. I had more exposure to the varying types of experiences game wardens endure than most of the other people in the academy because I was in conservation law. It really stands out to the instructors. It shows you’re interested and you want it.”

Kleman stressed the importance of criminal justice and conservation courses. He said game wardens spend most of their time doing criminal justice work, but the conservation courses come in handy when working on biology or conservation-related duties.

Ride-along hours were a major benefit to Kleman. He said getting to see game wardens in the field doing their duties was a major help while in the academy. During his time, his instructors would give him test scenarios and he would have to figure out how to handle them.

Conservation law enforcement has greatly influenced my future in the game warden profession.

Baylie Halbakken, a senior from Levelland, Texas, said majoring in conservation law can be tough and daunting at times, especially when looking at hiring rates and the probability of being accepted into the game warden academy. However, he believes the program offered by Texas Tech is a major assistance to the participating students, and he believes students who complete the program are at a higher-level than others applying for the game warden academy who do not have the specialized degree.

“Overall, it’s a lot of fun if you take a step back and really look at what you are getting involved in because we get to put our hands in a lot of different things as conservation law students,” Halbakken said. “We get to see the wildlife aspects of it, we get to see changes in animal populations, we get to do and participate in prescribed burns, and we get to participate in the law enforcement aspect of things. We are pretty much covering an entire gamete of areas of expertise that we get to participate in on a daily basis.”

Major Ron VanderRoest instructs a night class once a week for the conservation law students.

Halbakken said it is the instructors of conservation law enforcement, such as Captain-Major VanderRoest, who have been the most helpful for students in the program. Some instructors are currently in the profession and get to teach the students about what it means to become a game warden and how to be a better game warden. The instructors can also give insight into the process of getting hired, what the job entails, and the ins and outs students could potentially want to know about the career they may partake in.

“Conservation law enforcement is a highly beneficial program,” Halbakken said. “If anyone is looking into it, they should be proactive and look into it now.”

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