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Austin Bagby excels at Genius Olympics

Today, we have youth who are passionate about making improvements in our agricultural practices and production challenges. One such youth in our area is Austin Bagby, a Sr. graduate from Bell High School and member of Bell FFA. Austin would be the first to tell you about his love of agriculture, his milk cows and the outdoors. He has grown up and been involved in the dairy industry for 12 years, currently owning 24 head of his own registered dairy cattle for his Dairy Supervised Agricultural Experience for which he was chosen first place this year at the FFA State Convention in Dairy Entrepreneurship and will represent the State FFA in National competition. However, his interest does not stop there.
Because of his involvement on the farm, Austin has recognized agriculture has faced pressure dealing with environmental issues relating to the leaching of nitrates into the underground water. The use of commercial fertilizers and organic materials that release nitrates into the ground were and still are a great issue between farmers and environmentalists in North Central Florida. In his Freshman year of high school, he teamed up with another Bell FFA member, Caitlin Anthony, deciding to address this issue at his grandparent’s dairy farm and monitored water sources to help maintain compliance with regulations. Austin’s and Caitlin’s research addressed the fact that nitrates do leach through the sandy soil. So, the question was what could be done to reduce this risk without restricting agriculture practices.
Since the dairy had become inactive, the team decided to test nitrate leaching from commercial fertilizer in conjunction with a new product called Humate, a natural product composed of Humic Acid, Fulvic Acid, Hummin, and microbiological organisms. They set up test plots of Sorghum Sudan Grass fertilizing different plots with different amounts of nitrates and the Humate product. What they found was an increased growth of plants using less than the recommended amount of fertilizer. Over the next two years, Austin and Caitlin developed more tests to conclude that Humate could, in fact, change soil cationic exchange capacity to hold fertilizer in the soil and reduce nitrate leaching through the sandy soil with the benefits of greater plant growth using less fertilizer.
This past year, Austin has continued the project by himself applying it to peanut production. To his surprise, it opened up a whole new concept that he had not before considered. That concept was soil health and soil fertility. While taking plant and soil samples, not only did he find that the Humate treated peanuts responded the same way that Sudan Grass and Pearl millet did, he discovered other soil parameters that improved the soil such as a decrease in root nematodes, increase in soil water holding capacity, along with beneficial bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi that enhanced plant root health and growth. He also found that it improved the soil health quality and fertility over a year period maintaining its quality eight months after the last application of Humate to the plants and soil. He now thinks that products, such as the Humate, could be beneficial in improving soil health and fertility to the point we can salvage production land that no longer can sustain production. This could be very important in parts of the world that now have difficulty sustaining themselves agriculturally due to the poor soil in their environment.
The project has been recognized by the Suwanee Water and River Management District as a possible Best Management Practice for not only the Suwanee district, but all of Florida. In addition, a local peanut farmer has adopted the treatment in their peanut production this year spraying all of their peanuts with a similar material. The project has won 1st place each of the past three years and 1st again this year in the Environmental category at the state FFA Agriscience Fair. The project also placed 4th at the Florida State Science and Engineering Fair three years in a row as well as placing 4th and twice as the Reserve National Champion at the National FFA Agriscience Fair. In addition, this year, Austin was a finalist for both the Star Agriscience and Star Farmer Award along with being a finalist for the Environmental and Agriscience Proficiency Awards. For his years of dedicated work in the field of agriculture, the Department of Agriculture awarded him a scholarship as well.
As a result of Austins 1st place award at The Suwannee Regional Science and Engineering Fair this past February, he was extended an invitation to compete in the International Genius Science Olympiad held in Oswego, N.Y. This year, over 800 youth from 89 different countries competed in this international Olympiad. Austin’s research was found by the judges to be a critical component to addressing the lack of food production capability in developing countries of the world. Not only did he place first in the Environmental Category, but, was found to have the best science research project of all science research divisions, winning the International Genius Science Olympiad Research Gold Medal that recognizes the student research they believe can have a significant impact on a world challenge, in this case, food hunger. To date, Austin is the first participant in history from the state of Florida to win the Gold Medal.
When asked about this accomplishment, Austin is surprised of the achievement as he was competing with projects, for example, that addressed treating cancer and diabetes. Austin said, “I didn’t realize that world hunger was as serious as what the judges were telling me. They explained to me that they have seen places so poor, it is depressing. They were serious when saying that someone needs to do something about it. Because some of these places are in areas of the world that are sandy, desert, and hot, they asked me if the application of Humate would work in those countries. I asked them if they had ever been to Florida, at which we agreed it was a promising treatment for those countries in their agriculture production.” Austin continued, “I realize now that the concept of world hunger has a different meaning to us in the United States as compared to those people of developing nations who actually are malnourished and underfed, enduring the hardship.” Asked what was the easiest and the hardest question to answer, Bagby said, “It is actually the same question. They asked me, ‘Using your research, do you think you will feed the world?’ Easy answer, right! I almost blurted out ‘Of course, it will work’. But if you really listen to the question, it was not do you think it will work or can it work. It was really a question directed to me personally as to what my commitment would be to easing this world challenge. Now that is a pretty deep question, asking me my level of commitment to see it through. It has helped me to understand that whatever we do, you need to put it into action for it to do any good. My final answer was yes.” “It was quite an experience being with those from all over the world. Many times, we did not understand each other due to language differences, but it was certain, their efforts were also recognized as trying to make a difference. I guess we are not so much different from each other in pursuing what is best for the world.”
One important thing that Austin would like all to know is that he is so grateful to all those who have been part of his journey. “Without their support, this would never have taken place. It has been so satisfying being with people who are positive, wanting to see you succeed and accomplish your goals and dreams”.
Austin is also quick to give credit to his faith as he is very thankful. “God has given me these gifts. I believe I am accountable to return the favor by helping others in their need by my actions. I hope that these experiences can serve as an example for others to keep their faith and keep on going even when things look like they are falling apart. Life is good and something wonderful will come out of it. I am not sure what the future holds, but this experience has given me an accountable direction.”