Calvin PearsonAn agronomist with an array of titlesCSU research agronomist, professor, writer, world traveler
June 19, 2013
The definition of an agronomist is someone whose head is down in the field looking at plants and their butt is up in the air.
Well, close enough.
That is the "working" definition of an agronomist as once told to Calvin Pearson. As a professor and research agronomist studying various crop production and soil management systems for Colorado State University, Pearson is a scientist deeply rooted in agriculture.
Pearson's role as an experimental agronomist for CSU has provided him experiences that might be unexpected for an agronomist. His career has taken him to Afghanistan, allowed him to conduct research on biofuels, assist in bringing back Coors Brewing barley production to western Colorado and work as a journal editor and a become published writer.
Pearson grew up on a farm in Burley, Idaho. His family raised wheat, alfalfa, corn, sugar beets and cattle on 160 acres. The second youngest of five children, Pearson said he was the "go-pher kid," and an admitted bookworm.
After attending Ricks College, now BYU Idaho, Pearson went to Brigham Young University in Provo where he received his Bachelor of Science in Agronomy. There he was encouraged to go on to pursue his master's degree.
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He applied to Oklahoma State University and got accepted into the graduate program. Near the end of his master's he married his wife Heidi. He decided to continue on and get his doctorate degree before starting a family. After completing his Master of Science, Pearson applied and got accepted to Oregon State University's doctoral program.
In 1983 when Pearson graduated from Oregon State University he stayed on for post-doctoral work and kept his eye out for job opportunities. The job at the Colorado State University research center in Fruita, Colo., opened up and Pearson applied.
"It was right down my alley. It was right with my work experience," Pearson said.
Pearson was offered the job and began working in April of 1984. Now 29 years later, Pearson is happy he made the decision to work with Colorado State University at the Western Colorado Research Center.
"With any job there are good days and bad days but most days have been good days," Pearson said. "And what a wonderful place to live and work and raise a family."
The Fruita Agricultural Experiment Station sits on 80 acres of land 15 miles outside Grand Junction, Colo. Established in 1949, the Fruita site hosts a variety of agronomic research.
"We're doing a fair amount with biomass to biofuel," Pearson said. "We still do quite a bit with different industries and different kinds of companies … We're always interested in new products that could be marketed to our farmers."
Pearson and others at the Experiment Station have helped bring new crops and new opportunities to farmers in western Colorado. They brought back Coors barley production to western Colorado as well as snap bean seed production.
"Anything that we can do to help build the agricultural industry here in western Colorado and support it, directly or indirectly, I'm very much interested in doing that," Pearson said.
Currently, Pearson is conducting research on biomass to biofuel with perennial grasses and also cactus. He acknowledges the need for renewable sources of fuel in the U.S. But, he said corn is not a viable option as it competes as a food source for people and animals. Perennial grasses seem grow well in the West which is why Pearson is researching them as a potential option for biofuel.
Aside from conducting research, Pearson spends a fair amount of time writing. He writes grant proposals, research papers, progress reports, articles and even book chapters. Pearson worked on the editorial board of Agronomy Journal for 16 years. Working with extension agents and CSU soil and crop science professor Joe Brummer, he also helped write and compile information for a near 200 page manual on intermountain grass and legume forage production.
"Calvin is an interesting individual. He's very forward-thinking. He's a good scientist and a good agronomist," Brummer said.
Now a professor at CSU, Brummer also used to work for CSU Agriculture Experiment Station at the Mountain Meadow Research Center in Gunnison, Colo. The center was closed in 2003 but Brummer still works as an extension agent, specializing in forage production.
Although Pearson works in the experiment part of the land-grant system, he also spends part of his time doing extension work. Pearson's expertise on agricultural crops has led him to be an expert witness in court cases in durum wheat and genetically modified rice. He has also played a role in international extension.
The climate of western Colorado is very similar to the climate of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Because of this, many people from those countries have toured the experiment station in Fruita to learn irrigation and growing practices.
In July 2012, Pearson and his colleague Denis Reich conducted an intensive six-day workshop on irrigation water technology and best management practices in Kabul, Afghanistan. They had about 30 participants ranging from growers, professors, civil engineers and students.
"I'd like to think we did some good ambassador work in working with those folks," Pearson said.
Pearson said he is grateful for the opportunity to work with dedicated, hard-working people who want to work toward the improvement of agriculture and society.
Pearson said, "I like the kind of colleagues I've got to work with at CSU and at other universities and at other countries. It's always been something interesting, challenging and exciting." ❖