Highland Extension intern sampling river water
Monterey, Va. – Highland County native Scott Neil is back in the area this summer working on a special project with Virginia Tech faculty member Dr. Mark McCann, a Professor of Animal and Poultry Science. Scott is a graduate of Highland High School and the son of Joe and Ginny Neil. He grew up on the Neil farm north of McDowell.
“I had the opportunity to come back as an Extension Intern this summer,” said Scott. “We have to do what is called a capstone project for the Animal and Poultry Science major. We have seven different learning objectives we have to meet. So this covers that. It’s like build teamwork and communication and things like that. So this is my capstone project. Dr. McCann, who is my advisor down at Tech provided some funding for a phosphorous study. It’s being done all across Virginia, in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. He sent me to Highland County and I am here collecting data and sending it back to him,” he said.
Phosphorous levels in Virginia rivers have been too high over the past several years leading to increased levels of phosphorous in the Chesapeake Bay. High phosphorous in the bay can contribute to algae blooms that deplete oxygen and kill fish. Scott talks more about what he has been doing this summer.
“At the beginning of the summer I started collecting samples for Highland County and I have done twenty farms now around the county,” said Scott. “I take soil samples, grass samples, any kind of forage and manure, and I send it to them. They want to be able to see if there are any kind of environmental problems they might want to know about. They can look at that forage sample at Virginia Tech and say that you have a lot of phosphorous here and that is meeting your cow’s requirements. So you can cut back on the phosphorous in your mineral (supplements) and if you fertilize (your fields) again you don’t need to use as much phosphorous. They want to be able to make recommendations to the producers, based on this information I am gathering,” he said.
Based on the results so far, Scott may also be sampling in Augusta and Rockingham Counties before he is through for the summer. He will have more work to do on this project during his senior year. Virginia Tech has a Research Day where students exhibit posters on their projects. Scott’s project may help state scientists decide on strategies for reducing phosphorous in Virginia’s rivers. That would ultimately make the Chesapeake Bay healthier. Scott has also been thinking about his long-term goals recently.
“Right now I would like to be either an agriculture teacher at the high school level or do extension work like I have been doing this summer,” said Scott. “I am not sure at this point 100%, which of those two routes I’m going to take. I have to have a Masters (degree) for either one. So I’m looking right now at getting my Masters (degree) in agriculture education and extension, which is one department. But I have to decide before I start my Masters, which of those directions I want to go in, so I’m still not 100% sure, but I know the general direction I’m heading,” he said.
During his internship this summer, Highland County Extension agent Rodney Leech has been showing Scott more about how the Virginia Cooperative Extension helps county farmers. Scott helped identify weeds on the recent Mountain Soil and Water District Conservation Tour.