Andrew Landis, a graduate student in Auburn University’s Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures, has won the grand prize and $6,000 in the 2010 Future of Southern Agriculture student essay contest.

The contest — which is co-sponsored by Syngenta Crop Protection and Farm Press — was open to undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in agriculture programs at universities in Alabama, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia.

Landis, who took top honors in the graduate student category, says he is grateful for the honor and that his winning essay is a reflection of his love and respect for agriculture and the environment.

“I was raised in rural western Pennsylvania, where I grew up loving the outdoors,” says Landis. “I learned to value agriculture. My father came from a farming background in northern Minnesota, and that ideology has always permeated our lives.”

Working under the supervision of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures assistant professor Jim Stoeckel, Landis is focusing his doctoral research at Auburn University on the impact of elevated nitrogen concentrations in rivers and lakes on various species of mussels.

Before beginning his graduate studies at Auburn, Landis attended Goshen College in northern Indiana. He says he was led to enter the field of agriculture, specifically fisheries, because of the possibilities for practical applications.

“With fisheries, you’re not just working in a vacuum. In addition to the academic element, there are also practical applications, especially as they relate to the environment,” he says.

Landis’ essay addresses the topic of water conservation and how farmers in the Southeast could manage their water resources more effectively to ensure the sustainability of agriculture in the region.

In the Southeastern United States, unlike many arid regions, water is generally abundant, he says in his essay. “However, as we have seen over the past decade, droughts can be severe and lead to disputes over limited water resources. Future demands on water will become more severe as human populations continue to grow, and food production must increase. We in the Southeast must take steps to secure abundant water resources,” says Landis.

We have the ingenuity and perseverance to secure abundant water resources into the future, but the task will not be easy, he says. “By embracing technology, rethinking water at the landscape level, and forming partnerships, only then will we as a society achieve water security.”

Michael Boden, head of the Syngenta Southern Field Crops business unit says, “We are thrilled with the responses we received for the third year of competition in the Future of Southern Ag student essay contest. Once again, the essay pool was filled with exceptional submissions, which resulted in a very tight competition. As a company, Syngenta knows that one of the greatest investments we can make is in those who will bring new ideas and innovations to the industry. And, awarding scholarships to gifted students like Andrew Landis reminds me that we have some very talented future leaders in our midst. We’re pleased that we can support these students and, in turn, encourage them as they pursue various agricultural related careers.”

Other winners included Jarrod Hardke, Louisiana State University; Matthew Turner, Louisiana State University; and Sara Kovachich, University of Florida. To view Landis’ winning essay, go to www.FutureofSouthernAg.com and click “View the Complete List of 2010 Winners.”