Conservation has a special meaning for Jarrod Hardke, winner of $4,000 in the Future of Southern Agriculture student essay contest, sponsored by Syngenta Crop Protection and Farm Press Publications.

“We’ve reached a point where land is no longer accessible and abundant. Water is becoming less and less available, and urban sprawl is moving in,” said Hardke, a Louisiana State University doctoral student. “We don’t have enough resources to sustain our current population at our current rate of use. Conservation should be the spearhead of our generation. We can no longer afford to pass the buck.”

Hardke, runner-up in the graduate category of the essay contest, is the son of Gary and Melodie Hardke, of Carlisle, Ark. His father farms rice and soybeans near Carlisle.

Hardke earned his undergraduate degree in crop management and pest management from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. From his sophomore year in high school until graduating from college, Hardke worked every summer for University of Arkansas Extension entomologist Gus Lorenz, helping out on research projects. He is now working on a doctorate in entomology, studying under LSU AgCenter entomologist Roger Leonard.

With all that focus on entomology, one might think writing about water conservation would be a stretch for Hardke. But conservation has always been a major focus on the Hardke family farm. “My dad has streamlined the farm’s irrigation system with reservoirs and irrigation ditches, where we can catch all the runoff. We can basically send water from one end of the farm to the other.”

Hardke wrote in his essay that U.S. agriculture “must maintain a ‘forward focus,’ stressing the need for water availability and environmental protection for the next generation of producers. This challenge is clear, but difficult to solve. There must be a shift in the focus of agriculture from a purely annual profitā€based system to one designed to be conservative and sustainable, as well as fruitful and profitable.

“The agricultural community should not alone shoulder the burden of responsible water use. The federal government has made great strides in the last century to promote efficient water management for crop production, beginning with the National Reclamation Act of 1902 (U.S. Bureau of Reclamation 2009). This precedent established water conservation measures and recognized water as a resource that must be sustained.

“The future success of Southern farmers depends upon a devotion to conservation and sustainability. However, this is a challenge that will require a group effort to be successful.”

Hardke wrote that water sustainability “is not simply an agricultural problem; it is an issue for the entire United States. Therefore, a single approach will not solve it; but most likely a combination of genetics, traits, water efficiency systems, regulations, and funding for targeted projects.”

Hardke’s plans after graduation are flexible, depending on the job market, but he’d like to work either in the agricultural industry or continue to work in research and Extension-based programs. As to what he’ll do with his winnings, he said, “As a graduate student, I may have some fun with a very small amount of it, but the rest of it will be saved for when I enter the job market.”

To view Hardke’s winning essay, go to www.FutureofSouthernAg.com and click “View the Complete List of 2010 Winners.”