Matt Yost, an assistant professor and Extension agroclimate specialist at Utah State University, has been recognized by the American Society of Agronomy with the organization’s Early Career Award. Yost will receive the award at the society’s annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas, along with a $2,000 prize.
The award honors a society member for outstanding contributions to agronomy within seven years of completing a final college degree. Yost earned his doctoral degree in applied plant sciences and geographic information systems at the University of Minnesota in 2013. He joined the faculty in USU’s Department of Plants, Soils and Climate and USU Extension two and a half years ago, where he studies nitrogen and water use in agriculture.
“I haven’t always been interested in a career in agriculture,” Yost said. “I was raised on a farm in Idaho, and as a kid I sometimes begrudged milking cows in the wee hours of the morning. I was originally studying computers and electrical engineering, but I ultimately decided that agriculture was right for me.”
Yost said experiences from his early life help him to empathize and communicate with the farmers he interacts with now in his career.
“Climate change is not always a popular topic in the agricultural community,” Yost said. “We’ve really tried to focus on climate impacts without necessarily terming everything climate change. Farmers do understand and accept the threat of drought, for example. Looking to the future, we expect that there will be less snowpack and higher temperatures—meaning a greater demand for water.”
As part of the award screening process, Yost submitted a self-assessment letter detailing four research programs he’s been a part of totaling more than $5 million in funding. These programs exemplify a larger body of research he’s been involved in, all of which is aimed at improving yields for farmers while using water and fertilizers more efficiently.
According to data gathered by the USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service in 2016, 80% of the diverted water in Utah is used for agriculture—a $400 million/year industry. Yost said he’s working to incentivize the optimal use of water when the status-quo of Utah’s water rights laws does not necessarily promote self-imposed restraints.
The results from two advanced irrigation systems tested in Yost’s research indicate that farmers could use 20% less water while maintaining yields and reduce the amount of water used annually by 20 billion gallons. Yost said he plans to continue searching for innovative solutions to Utah’s water needs while leading Extension efforts to share research results and best practices with producers in Utah.