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(Newsrooms with art: https://flic.kr/s/aHskkNypUJ)
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – As he motioned toward a small stream otherwise known as an agricultural
ditch that’s used mainly to move water away from the fields, Matthew Rich explained
how it rated relatively low in terms of water quality standards.
Rich, a graduate student in crop, soil, and environmental sciences at the University
of Arkansas, told a group of high school science students that scientists who assess
water quality think in terms of its intended use. He noted that Beaver Lake, the source
of drinking water for northwest Arkansas, must meet the state’s highest water quality
Rich was one of several faculty and staff members who demonstrated on-the-scene lessons
in environmental and agricultural sustainability Sept. 29 for about 200 high school
students who participated in a tour of UA System Division of Agriculture research
activities at its Arkansas Agricultural Research and Extension Center north of the
The Department of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences sponsored the annual tour.
Students from Rogers, Rogers Heritage, Springdale Har-Ber and Danville Two Rivers
high schools traveled around the complex throughout the morning to see the presentations.
“Visiting the sites this year gave me a new appreciation of the breadth and depth
of the fields of study covered in the Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences Department,”
said Holly Yeatman, department recruiting coordinator. “I learn something new every
year, so I’m sure the high school students do as well. This is the seventh year we
have offered the field trip, and we always have excellent response from the educational
“The teachers are always appreciative of the opportunities their students have to
learn first-hand about some of the ways we are addressing the growing demand for natural
resources,” she said.
As several students from Rogers gathered by the agricultural ditch, Rich said that
in his job as a limnologist (one who studies biological and chemical features of water
quality) he first finds out how much water is flowing and what it contains.
“We want to understand the nutrient content,” Rich said. “I’ll come out here and take
a sample of the water body and take it back to the lab to process it. After putting
together all this information we can understand the load of nitrates and phosphates
that are going downstream.”
Rich then showed the students the sloping field adjoining the stream, a riparian zone
with plants that can take up some of the stream’s nitrates and phosphates. “We have
cottonwoods and switchgrass here,” he said. “These plants are going to use the nitrates
and phosphates to assimilate into their cells to build biomass. That’s how they grow
tall and big. One purpose of riparian zones is to slow down that water and give this
vegetation a chance to take up some of these nutrients and to slow down erosion.”
In a nearby field, Alden Smartt of the Crop, Soil, and Environmental Sciences staff
greeted the students from the bottom of a freshly dug hole. The texture and shading
of the soil wall changes as the depth increases. Examining the characteristics of
the soil at various levels enables scientists to create a soil profile.
“Examining a soil profile is a good way to tell whether you should be concerned with
erosion or loss of soil and nutrients over the surface of the soil, or the movement
of water, nutrients and pollutants,” Smartt said.
Smartt described information gained from soil profiles as essential before making
decisions to build houses or roads in particular areas. The soil needs to be stable
for those purposes. Even if construction of a house is permissible, a basement might
not be. He pointed to a level in the hole with reduced iron and pockets of white and
“That’s from where the water just stays in those cracks,” Smartt said. “That shows
there’s a water table that’s saturated a portion of the year. When you have saturated
soil, you know you can’t build a basement there.”
The students also had opportunities to see other demonstrations in the fields and
in laboratory buildings. The included soybean seed crossing and data collection, cotton
plants’ response to stress, wheat breeding and seed processing, native and invasive
plants in the weed nursery, using solar energy in irrigation, erosion control, a biodiesel
plant demonstration of cooking oil transforming into fuel, a stream table interactive
model, development of a biological fertilizer from municipal biosolids and soybean
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension
and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity,
sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran
status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative
Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.
# # #
Media Contact: Mary HightowerDir. of Communication ServicesU of A Division of AgricultureCooperative Extension Service(501) email@example.com