There's a new face at the North Central Research Extension Center, but if you're outside you might never see it. As a soil enthusiast, agronomist Jason Riopel will spend much of his time this spring face down to the ground, soil under his fingernails and dirt in and up his sleeves.
"Everything relies on soil and it changes so much year to year that has always interested me," he said. "And because we rely on it so much, it's important to manage it properly so that we can sustain (agricultural) production forever."
Using his passion for soil and years of expertise, Riopel will help winter wheat growers in the area work on a variety of crop-related issues such as fertility management, crop rotation, choosing the right variety for the conditions and other production concerns as the new winter wheat agronomist at the center.
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Before joining North Central Research Extension Center as the winter wheat agronomist in March, Jason Riopel worked for the U.S. Geological Survey, conducting wetland studies from Montana to Iowa. Here, Riopel is doing soil sampling in Iowa.
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This is Jason Riopel’s second time working with the conservation group Ducks Unlimited. Before becoming the winter wheat agronomist through The Winter Cereals: Sustainability in Action, an initiative by Ducks Unlimited and Bayer CropScience, he worked for the group as a research technician who concentrated on soils. Here, Riopel is taking deep soil cores in South Dakota.
He joined the group in March as part of The Winter Cereals: Sustainability in Action, an initiative by Ducks Unlimited and Bayer CropScience, which aims to improve the habitat of waterfowl and other North American wildlife through expanded winter wheat acres and collaboration with growers, universities, conservation groups and agricultural crop protection companies.
With a month under his belt, Riopel said the transition into the new job has been seamless thus far, but finding a home for his wife, Ashley, and newborn son William has been a hole-riddled event.
"We knew it was going to be tough, so we started looking inside and outside of Minot, but it's been tougher than we thought," he said. "We joke that we're moving into the only hot housing market in the country."
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After more than a month of searching and a deal on a home fall through, Riopel is currently staying in a hotel in town and makes the weekly trips home to Fargo to see his family.
Despite the housing difficulties, Riopel is enjoying his time in Minot.
"Minot, I love it. It's a great area," he said. "I do a little photography on the side so I can't wait til the weather gets good and everything comes to life."
But as spring progresses and temperatures warm up, Riopel will increasingly be busy with the task at hand helping area winter wheat growers with production and management issues.
With four winter wheat research plots located in his 10-county region, he said his primary goal this year is to collect basic plot information and, with help of local growers, identify production areas where additional management is needed.
Although ample snowcover this winter has provided the crop an excellent starting point, with winter wheat acres estimated at 340,000 acres a 41 percent decrease from last year data may be hard to come by.
"We had a tough fall with all of the rain so the lower number was expected. It is what it is and I'll take it, but we hope to get numbers back up in the future," he said. "Winter wheat is such a sustainable crop. It helps with (crop) rotation, it improves the habitat for waterfowl, it has an economic advantage in terms of yield and it helps with time management and investment."
Riopel's new position also allows him to combine his childhood experiences of working on the farms of his extended family, his educational pursuits in soil science he has an undergraduate and master's degree from North Dakota State University in soil science and is currently pursuing his doctoral degree and his passion for hunting waterfowl.
"It's neat to be able to help with the nesting of the birds, then have fun harvesting a few during the hunting season," he said.