MSU graduate student awarded first-ever agronomy fellowship

Paul O’Neal, a graduate student in the Mississippi State Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, examines soil in a field at MSU’s R.R. Foil Plant Science Research Center. (Photo by Dominique Belcher)

A new fellowship has been established to continue the tradition of excellence in soybean research in Mississippi. Leading the way is Paul O’Neal, a graduate student in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at Mississippi State University (MSU).

Paul O’Neal, a student in the MSU Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, has been named the inaugural recipient of the Dr. Larry G. Heatherly Graduate Fellow in Agronomy Excellence.

Paul O'Neil

Paul O’Neal (Photo by Grace Cockrell)

This fellowship is a tribute to the extensive and influential career of Dr. Larry G. Heatherly in soybean research within the U.S. Department of Agriculture. During his 30-year tenure as a research scientist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Stoneville, Heatherly introduced soybean management strategies that revolutionized industry practices in the mid-southern U.S.

In honor of Heatherly’s esteemed legacy and dedication to soybean research, the Mississippi Soybean Promotion Board donated $250,000 to the MSU Foundation for the establishment of the fellowship. The endowment will provide financial support to graduate students conducting research in the field of agronomy, including scholarships and stipends.

O’Neal comes from a farming family in the small town of Shelby in the Mississippi Delta, where his father cultivates soybeans and other crops in Bolivar County.

“I’ve known Paul and his family since I started my career as a soybean specialist 12 years ago,” said Trent Irby, an extension professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences. “I’ve had the opportunity to work on several Extension activities with his father over the years. When Paul was pursuing his undergraduate degree, he applied for a position as a student worker in my program.”

O’Neal completed his bachelor’s degree in May and immediately began pursuing his graduate studies under the guidance of Trent Irby. His current research focuses on evaluating soybean crop management strategies for early-season replanting.

Due to the extended soybean planting season in Mississippi, which spans from late March to early July, unpredictable weather conditions often necessitate replanting. Irby and O’Neal are undertaking a project to determine the best practices for maximizing yield and profitability when faced with the decision to replant.

“I’m grateful that Paul chose to be a part of my program,” Irby stated. “He is curious, driven, and talented, making him a pleasure to work with. I am also thankful to the Soybean Promotion Board for their generosity and commitment to supporting student education.”

“Receiving this fellowship is a tremendous honor,” said O’Neal. “Dr. Heatherly has made significant contributions to soybean production systems, and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to conduct my own soybean research under this fellowship.”

For more information about the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at MSU’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, please visit www.pss.msstate.edu.

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