Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Industry News: April 2024

MSU Extension Names New Delta Region Coordinator

Alex Deason

The Mississippi State University Extension Service’s Delta region will soon have new leadership.

Alex Deason, who has been an MSU Extension agent based in Sunflower County since 2013, began his new role as regional coordinator March 16.

Regional Extension coordinators provide leadership for MSU’s outreach efforts in its four regions and provide administrative direction to Extension agents in the development, implementation, and evaluation of Extension’s educational programs. The primary objective of each program is to improve economic and social conditions in the county, region, and state.

As an MSU Extension agent, Deason delivered educational programming in agriculture and natural resources as well as 4-H youth development. He holds a master’s degree in agriculture and Extension education and a bachelor’s degree in agricultural sciences, both from MSU.

“Alex is committed to helping Mississippians better themselves. As an Extension agent for over a decade, that’s exactly what he’s done,” said Steve Martin, associate director of county operations for MSU Extension. “His demonstrated ability to lead and help others make positive changes will be a great benefit to our Delta clients.”

Deason replaces Lance Newman, who had served in an interim role since 2022 while retaining his duties as coordinator of MSU Extension’s Lafayette County office. Newman was named regional coordinator for MSU Extension’s northeast region late last year.

“Alex has all the qualities you want to see in an Extension agent, and this role gives him an opportunity to pass his positive attributes on to other agents in the Mississippi Delta,” said Angus Catchot, director of MSU Extension. “He will be a tremendous asset to our leadership team.”

The counties in the Delta Region of MSU Extension include DeSoto, Tate, Tunica, Panola, Quitman, Coahoma, Tallahatchie, Bolivar, Sunflower, Leflore, Grenada, Montgomery, Carroll, Holmes, Humphreys, Washington, Sharkey, Issaquena, and Yazoo.

MU Pesticide Safety Program Vital to State’s Ag Economy

Agronomist Nick Wesslak is part of a team of MU Extension specialists that presents pesticide safety training to adults and youths in Missouri. In 2023, the team, headed by Sam Polly, taught more than 3,300 people at 130 private applicator training programs and 1,600 people at 35 commercial applicator trainings statewide.
Photo courtesy of Sam Polly

Sam Polly, coordinator of University of Missouri Extension’s Pesticide Safety Education Program, wants to make Missouri a safer place that allows Missouri’s agricultural economy to continue to grow.

Polly says the program is the backbone of agricultural and commercial pest management in Missouri. Agriculture, forestry, and fisheries contribute $369 million annually to the state’s economy.

MU Extension and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency observed National Pesticide Safety Education Month in February to raise awareness for pesticide safety education and shared best practices for using pesticides in and around the farm and home.

In 2023, Polly and his team taught more than 3,300 people at 130 private applicator training programs and 1,600 people at 35 commercial applicator trainings statewide.

Licensed commercial applicators must pass an exam and participate in continuing education courses on environmentally sound uses of pesticides. The Missouri Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Pesticide Control mandates commercial applicator training.

Polly’s MU Extension team includes agronomists, agricultural engineers, horticulturists, and specialists in natural resources. Daniel Sjarpe serves as assistant coordinator.

In 2023, the team developed, updated, or supplemented 18 of the 21 pesticide training manuals needed for Missouri applicators to comply with new federal regulations. The team also created an online private applicator certification/recertification portal for on-demand training.

In addition to teaching pesticide safety to adults, Polly and his team also taught younger groups through 4-H and FFA.

Polly suggests reviewing these tips during National Pesticide Safety Education Month:

Always read and follow the labels on pesticides.

Store pesticides in their original containers with proper labels.

Store pesticides out of the reach of children and pets.

Use the amount specified on the label. Using more will not be more effective and may harm you, your loved ones and the environment.

Wash hands with soap and water after using pesticides. Wash clothes that have been in contact with pesticides immediately and separately from other items.

Don’t let children and pets enter sprayed areas while they are still wet.

Keep pesticides away from food and dishes.

To learn more, search for “pesticide safety” at or visit

Experimenting with CO2 Sensors for Grain Bin Quality Control

Griffiths Atungulu, left, director of the Rice Processing Program, works with Samuel
Olaoni, Ph.D. student, on a miniature grain bin to test carbon dioxide sensors for monitoring grain quality.
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Sinking Mississippi River levels in recent years have caused grain shipping disruptions, prompting farmers to pursue on-farm grain bins to preserve quality and market potential.

“Storage is becoming a critical thing,” said Griffiths Atungulu, director of the Rice Processing Program for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “Even in just the Delta, the farmers I visit every year have added one bin, and some of them have doubled their number of bins. That tells me how critical it is becoming for them to have their own storage.”

The Rice Processing Program aims to help farmers maximize the value of their stored rice by developing recommendations for reducing moisture and monitoring quality. To that end, Atungulu has recently begun experimenting with carbon dioxide sensors to improve on-farm grain bin quality control.

Atungulu is an associate professor of food science for the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, the research arm of the Division of Agriculture. As an agricultural engineer, he specializes in grain processing and post-harvest system engineering.

Temperature and moisture sensors attached to thin cables hanging from a grain bin’s roof are currently the most advanced monitoring system for on-farm grain bins. Carbon dioxide sensors have the potential to serve as a relatively inexpensive upgrade to go with the cables, Atungulu says.

He hypothesizes that carbon dioxide sensors can detect the presence of mold and insect pests in rice before they become a significant problem. However, the temperature sensors on the cables help determine the area in the grain bin where the abnormality is located. A farmer could decide whether to move out all the grain or just a portion.

Upgrading Technology

The cable systems that now serve as the bin’s moisture and temperature sensors aren’t perfect. The force that grain places on them creates the potential to collapse a grain bin’s roof. The temperature and moisture sensors on cables are also prone to being clogged by dust and can malfunction over time.

In the future, Atungulu envisions adapting high-frequency wavelength technologies to detect temperature and moisture.

“Our research is focused on what we can do to make sure that rice, when it comes in at a higher moisture content, is dried effectively, the best way possible, and then after drying it, the quality of that rice can still be maintained,” Atungulu said.

Atungulu has previously conducted extensive research on calibrating temperature probes on cables, predicting temperature changes in grain bins, and guidelines for drying rice in on-farm bins for storage.

Mini Grain Bin from Brazil

A miniature grain bin, about the size of a residential water heater tank, is currently housed at the experiment station’s food science pilot plant in Fayetteville. Built by Garten Automation in Brazil, the little grain bin has a carbon dioxide sensor at the top, temperature sensors on simulated steel cables, and a control panel that allows for remote computer monitoring. A false bottom and air inlet also allow for a fan for drying.  

Atungulu toured rice processing facilities in Brazil’s Rio Grande do Sul area last year. He also presented on American rice processing research as the international guest speaker at the Conecta Grano Safe 2023 conference.

University of Arkansas Ph.D. student Samuel Olaoni is conducting experiments on the mini grain bin to test for correlations between temperature and carbon dioxide increases and relationships between insect growth and carbon dioxide dynamics.

“The carbon dioxide sensors look promising, but they can’t stand alone because they can’t tell us exactly where the problem is,” Atungulu said. “Integrating both the cables and the carbon dioxide sensors can move the industry in a better direction than just having one system.”

Eventually, Olaoni and Atungulu can look at how the grain quality changes with those insect and carbon dioxide dynamics.

— John Lovett, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture

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