Four college students hauled in $20,000 in prize money in August as winners of the second annual student essay contest sponsored by Syngenta Crop Protection and Farm Press Publications.

The two $6,000 awards went to Whitney Wiegel, a graduate student at the University of Missouri and Lewis Buford, an undergraduate student at Mississippi State University. Two $4,000 awards went to runnersup Katie Murray, a North Carolina State University graduate student, and Austin Rizer, an undergraduate student at Clemson University.

Three of the four winning essays discussed a common theme, the need for farmers to band together in cooperatives to unite the voice of agriculture in the political and trade arenas, to enhance purchasing power, or to identify Southern agriculture as a brand that trade partners demand.

A fourth writer discussed the value of water use efficiency in current and future crop production.

To read the winners’ essays go to www.FutureofSouthernAg.com, and click on the official winners link.

Michael Boden, head of the Syngenta Southern Field Crops business unit, said Syngenta is “incredibly pleased” with the participation level and creative responses generated by entrants in the Future of Southern Ag Student Essay Contest.

“The response level we received from students at all 11 participating universities across the South was excellent. The student authors expressed inventive and thoughtful ideas in their essay responses, and the competition was strong in both the Delta/Southwest and Southeast regions.

“Syngenta congratulates our four winners on their earned achievement and thanks all students who participated in the Future of Southern Ag Student Essay Contest. We are encouraged by their words that they will lead the Southern agriculture industry in the right direction.”

“The next generation of young people entering agriculture are just as passionate about agriculture as those who came before them,” said Elton Robinson, Delta Farm Press editor and a judge in the contest. “This was clearly demonstrated in their essays.”

For the online contest, students submitted essays of 750 to 1,000 words on the following subject: By 2050, the world’s population is expected to increase to more than 9 billion, up from the estimated 6.7 billion as of January 2009. Taking into account commodity price fluctuations and variable input prices, what is the best agricultural business model to deal with this environment? How can the U.S. Southern farmer continue to compete in the export markets and/or against foreign imports to sustain agriculture as a viable business? What processes should be put into place to ensure the safety, quality and availability of U.S. food, feed and fiber production?

Judges for the Delta/Southwest region were Bud Hughes, partner, Verdant Partners, LLC; Elton Robinson, editor, Delta Farm Press; and Marjory Walker, director of communications, production and audio visual services, National Cotton Council.

Judges for the Southeast region were Jim Arnold, manager of communications, advertising and promotions, Helena Chemical Co.; Erika Brandt, marketing and communications manager, AgCareers.com; and Paul Hollis, editor, Southeast Farm Press.

National judges were Grant MacDonald, manager, developmental sales rep programs, Syngenta; Ron Smith, editor, Southwest Farm Press; and Mike Strain, commissioner, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

Participating universities were divided into two regions — Southeast and Delta/Southwest. The universities were Louisiana State University, Mississippi State University, University of Arkansas, University of Tennessee, University of Missouri, Texas A&M University, Auburn University, University of Georgia, Clemson University, Virginia Tech University and North Carolina State University.

e-mail: erobinson@farmpress.com