Four talented college students have captured $20,000 in prize money in the Future of Southern Ag student essay contest, sponsored by Syngenta Crop Protection and Farm Press Publications. The group includes a first, two-time winner.

The two top winners are Andrew Landis, Auburn University, who won the graduate category and Matthew Turner, Louisiana State University, who took top honors in the undergraduate category. Both won $6,000.

Runners up are Jarrod Hardke, graduate category, Louisiana State University, and Sara Kovachich, undergraduate category, University of Florida. Sara and Jarrod will take home $4,000 each.

Students were asked to describe how the Southern farmer and the agricultural industry can effectively manage water usage amid increasing pressure to produce more food, feed and fiber and diminishing supply in some areas.

To get his point across, Andrew Landis used an ancient parable of a crow dropping stones into a pitcher of water to raise its level high enough to drink. Matthew Turner, who also won the undergraduate category in the inaugural year of essay contest in 2008, used his experience growing up on a farm in Mer Rouge, La., to provide a “hands on” analysis of water usage in the Mid-South.

Jarrod Hardke wrote that agriculture should focus on more efficient irrigation, better use of surface water and the development of drought-resistant crops. Sara Kovachich believes that using highly efficient irrigation technology like drip systems and variable-rate application is one key to solving water conservation issues.