Archive | February 2012

Tales from Africa

Happy Friday, bloggers!

Servi-Tech Communications recently had a chance to catch up with Ryan Nickerson, who went on a mission trip to the west African country of Senegal.

He has an amazing story that we’d like to share with you.

Servi-Tech Agronomist Travels to Africa

Farmers in the U.S. have many modern conveniences to help make life easier: from the tractors they use to the way they test crop yields.

But what if you were charged with helping farmers who had next to no equipment and only a mule and a plow?

That’s what Servi-Tech agronomist and Doniphan resident Ryan Nickerson experienced in the west African country of Senegal. He visited with farms and producers in Kaolack and several small villages, giving soil fertility advice from Jan. 28 through Feb. 11.

He educated farmers about the role that nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium plays in a plant’s life. He also provided strategies for applying compost to the land.

“My whole philosophy was taking what they do and making it better,” he said.

Ryan Nickerson talks to farmers in the west African country of Senegal. Nickerson traveled on a mission trip to Senegal Jan. 28 through Feb. 11.









Nickerson said he decided to take on the challenge and travel to Africa because of Servi-Tech’s purpose; making the planet more productive.

“The trip was my one opportunity to make the world a better place and make the planet more productive,” he said.

Senegal has sandy soil that is low in organic matter. Nickerson said farmers knew that implementing compost creates nutrient rich, organic material, but they didn’t know when, or how, to apply that material to the land.

Servi-Tech’s central Nebraska Territory Manager Rick Runyan said he was happy to hear Nickerson would be traveling abroad to be an agriculture expert.

“This was a chance of a lifetime for Ryan to represent his company and his talents for the betterment of the people of a foreign country,” Runyan said.

Since French is spoken in Senegal, Nickerson used a translator to talk to the farmers.

Runyan said Nickerson brings back an appreciation for technology, communication and infrastructure — things typically taken for granted in the U.S. Farmers in Senegal don’t have tractors, irrigation technology or access to fertilizer or crop genetics like U.S. farmers have.

Senegal farmers use a mule and a plow. Nickerson developed ways the farmers could plant their corn, peanuts and millets crops in rows.

His advice also included different land management strategies. For example, at the end of a growing season Senegal farmers like to burn the fields to get rid of the crop residue.

Burning the fields can be dangerous and can hurt the soil cycle and soil structure.

“I did a lot of educating about what they’re doing and how it’s affecting the soil,” he said.

While in Senegal Nickerson talked to farmers about soil fertility and land management strategies.









Nickerson found out about the trip through his former college adviser, Dr. Stephen Mason, professor of agronomy at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

This is Nickerson’s first time traveling overseas to share his agriculture expertise, although he has been overseas before. He served in the military in Iraq from April 2003 to May 2004. He also helped build a school in Nicaragua through the military.

“Sometimes we don’t realize what’s going on on the other side of the world,” he said. “As good as we have it, there are millions of people out there that need help. I’m just happy to help a few of them.”

While in Africa Nickerson kept readers updated on his progress by updating a blog at

Nickerson lives in Doniphan with his wife, Amanda, and children Ethan, 8, and Kayli, 4. He grew up on a small family farm in Cambridge, Neb., that raised cattle and dry land corn.

Nickerson is a senior agronomist with Servi-Tech. He provides agronomic services to farmers in central Nebraska.

Ryan Nickerson poses for a photo with children in a village near Kaolack, Senegal.









Servi-Tech was organized in 1975 by three farmer-owned cooperatives to provide technical service for agricultural producers in southwest Kansas. Today, Servi-Tech provides consulting to approximately 2,000 farmers across five states and over 1 million acres.

Out into the Country

By Ryan Nickerson

Servi-Tech Senior Agronomist

Depending on when I can find a internet connection to send this e-mail, it could be a Wednesday or Thursday update.  We have taken our show on the road, covering four villages in four days.  Tuesday and Wednesday night (tonight, when I am typing this), we have been staying in different hotels, before finally returning to Kaolack tomorrow after another valuable session of educating farmers on soil fertility.

For the rest of the article:

Reaction to Yahoo’s Claim that Agriculture is a ‘Useless’ Degree

A recently published article at Yahoo has gotten quite a bit of attention from the agriculture community.

The article, titled ‘College Majors That Are Useless’ lists agriculture as the No. 1 useless degree, with animal science and horticulture also on the list.

The American Society of Agronomy, of which Fred Vocasek is a member, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America are partners in the Coalition for a Sustainable Agricultural Workforce (CSAW), sent a strong message to Washington, DC: help prevent the spread of misconceptions about agriculture by supporting increasing agricultural research and education funding to meet the challenge of feeding the world.

A letter to U.S. Senate and House members of the Appropriations Subcommittees on Agriculture outlines the issues and strategic answers. This direct communication with Congress follows misleading information about career opportunities in agriculture-related programs in a recent article posted on Yahoo.

The letter has appeared in several highly-regarded publications and newspapers in an effort to inform the public about the critical need for graduates with agriculture-related degrees and highlights the latest food contamination scare as one example.

Here’s the letter:

January 31, 2012

CSAW Letter Sent to Individual Members of the
U.S. Senate and House Committee on Appropriations,
Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development & Related Agencies

Dear Senator/Representative:

On behalf of the Coalition for a Sustainable Agricultural Workforce (CSAW), a novel partnership of more than 10 professional scientific societies and 20 agricultural companies formed to promote the education and training of future generations of the agricultural workforce, we want to thank you for your ongoing support and leadership of agricultural research funding and bring to your attention the increasing need for agricultural science investments and the importance of clear messages about agriculture.

CSAW was formed in response to the growing body of data that documents a significant demand for relevantly trained students to enter the workforce in agricultural and food-related jobs over the next decade. Retirements alone are anticipated to necessitate replacement of more than 50% of the agricultural scientific workforce in government and industry in the next decade. The documentation came from not only government studies and commissions, such as the National Academies, but also from the government agencies and industries needing the workers.

As our global population is projected to exceed nine billion by 2050, we face unprecedented challenges to produce sufficient food, feed, and fiber. Over the next 40 years, we must produce more food than has been produced over the past 10,000 years combined. Failure to meet this goal will cause food insecurity in many parts of the world, leading to instability in the global, geopolitical landscape. Agriculture is essential for human health and wellness.

To create a more sustainable future, we must prepare new scientists with international perspectives to bring novel and revolutionary approaches to agro-ecosystem management. However, we face mounting obstacles in attracting the best and brightest students into scientific fields of study to assure a plentiful and safe supply of food, fuel, and fiber. The National Academies’ report, “Rising above the Gathering Storm,” stresses that “the scientific and technological building blocks critical to our economic leadership are eroding.” This erosion is especially prominent among the scientific disciplines that generate the fundamental information underpinning the advances required from our agricultural enterprise.

Misconceptions and an increasingly narrow view of agriculture, as referenced in the recent post by Yahoo regarding “useless degrees in agriculture, horticulture, and animal science” (, are the type of misleading messages negatively impacting agriculture and steering students away from careers in the agricultural sciences.

At a time when the grand challenges have never been greater and the need for investment is critical, budget constraints have resulted in the steady decline of agricultural research and education at land-grant universities. This is of even greater concern given that all disciplines report a decline in the number of highly qualified students entering their fields. Students with high intellectual capacity and interest in the fundamental sciences need to be made aware of the opportunities to work with food and environmental issues. Once recruited, these students need to have the opportunities to engage in experiential learning to develop a working knowledge applicable to related industries. Educational programs must prepare students to be the leaders and strategic thinkers in the development and implementation of sustainable agro-ecosystems to meet the grand challenges facing society, and in doing so, enhance global security and the quality of life for all global citizens.

We strongly urge you to ensure that the FY2013 appropriations bill increases funding for agricultural research and education, and broadens the opportunities for students.

With federal support, we can develop new partnerships to attract students and educate them in the agricultural sciences for a career path as highly skilled food scientists, nutritionists and dieticians, agronomists, entomologists, plant pathologists, plant breeders, soil scientists, and weed scientists. This is necessary to make the scientific advances essential to meet future production and sustainability challenges, while controlling new and emerging invasive pathogens and weed and insect species that will continue to threaten the world food supply.

Coalition for a Sustainable Agricultural Workforce

AACC International

The American Phytopathological Society

American Society of Agronomy

American Society of Farm Managers and

Rural Appraisers

Agrotain International LLC

BASF Corporation

Bayer CropScience

Crop Science Society of America

Cargill, Incorporated

CID Bio-Science, Inc.

Deere and Company

Dole Fresh Vegetables

Dow AgroSciences LLC


Entomological Society of America

General Mills


Gylling Data Management, Inc.

International Plant Nutrition Institute

J. R. Simplot Company

Kellogg Company

Monsanto Company

National Council for Agricultural Education

National FFA Organization

Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont business


Rural Sociological Society

Soil Science Society of America


Weed Science Society of America

Winfield Solutions, LLC, a Land O’Lakes Co.

Monday In Kaolack

By Ryan Nickerson

Servi-Tech Senior Agronomist

There is not much happening on the African front today.  I spent a lot of time reading through the research that many of you have given me, plus research from previous volunteers assignments just to make sure that everything I am doing is right and just.  Everyone in the office over here is so helpful and friendly.  It is common to great everyone when I get here in the morning, everyone.  Tomorrow looks like I will be traveling a little further away to a village so that it will require me to stay overnight in a different hotel as travel is not advised after dark, for good reason.  From village to village the message has been the same.  Soil Fertility and composting.

Soil Questions Arise

By Ryan Nickerson

Servi-Tech Senior Agronomist

KAOLACK, Senegal — There is not much new today, went and talked to another village about soil fertility.  Similar experience as yesterday.  Ne common theme is questions about gardening.  There is also a parasite in the soil that they refer to as “striger”  I think it is similar to a nematode if not a nematode.

For the rest of the article:

Still Safe in Senegal

BBC News – “Senegal anti-Wade protest: One demontsrator dies”

At least one person has been killed in the Senegalese capital during a demonstration against President Abdoulaye Wade’s re-election bid.

Police and thousands of opposition supporters clashed in the centre of the city on Tuesday evening.

Tear gas was fired and one student died when he was run over by a truck.

Earlier in the week, two people were shot dead during protests in a northern town after a court ruled that Mr Wade’s third-term election bid was legal.

Elections in the West African country – often held up as one of Africa’s model democracies – are due on 26 February.

By Ryan Nickerson

Servi-Tech Agronomist

KAOLACK, Senegal — Just to get it out of the way first: I am safe and sound here in Kaolack, and for now it looks like the political protesting will remain in Dakar and not travel to my region.  Furthermore, the NCBA has several contingency plans in place should the need arise for me to leave.  For now, I am safe and continue to spread the word about soil fertility.

For the rest of the article: