#StillFarming and #StillStudying

tractor pulls a planter across an empty field

“It was cotton season when I was born, so my mom had to stop by the fields to show me to my Dad and Grandad. I guess you could say I was basically born in the field,” mused Daniel McDonald, NC State Agricultural Institute Crop Science student.

Second Shift

A wheel loader dumps soil into a truck bedFor many of our students, returning home for online classes meant returning to work. Daniel’s family operates McDonald Brothers Farm in Red Springs, NC.  They grow almost 5,000 acres of corn, wheat, soybeans, and cotton.  “My Grandad started this as a hobby farm with hay and a few cattle.  My Dad and uncle ramped it up in the mid-’90s.”  

Daniel’s father was an educator, teaching automotives at Fayetteville Technical Community College.  So learning was highly valued in his family.  “Dad instilled in me the importance of education.  Once you have it, it can’t be taken away from you,” Daniel said. “I don’t know when I sat down and decided to get an Ag degree, but I can’t think of anything I’d rather go to school for.”

Off-Campus and On the Clock

Daniel is a first-year student in the two-year Agricultural Institute, concentrating in field crop technology and living on campus in Raleigh. “I like campus life – I didn’t realize how much I’d miss it until they moved classes online.  I’m doing ok with the online classes, but the on-campus experience is far superior for me.  Learning in front of a computer is just not my favorite thing to do.”

Once you have [education], it can’t be taken away from you

Now that he is back home, farm work calls.  Daniel is a key equipment operator in their family farm business of three full-time employees. “I do most of the applicating – herbicides and post-emergence.  I can operate anything we own.  I’ve been doing it since I was seven or eight years old.  If there’s a problem, I don’t call Dad. I get in my service truck and fix it.” A reliable worker like Daniel is hard to find.

There are no idle hands on the farm.  “I think my Dad was kind of excited to have me home.  I used to drive home on weekends to work, hunt, or just see friends, but now I can help out even more.  Before now, they were kind of operating a man short.  They would divide and conquer the work but were really stretched thin without me.” 

tractor gps screenshotTractor Tech 

Daniel has found that being home is a mixed bag. “I’m glad to be home and be available to help in the afternoons.  But we live in a map-dot town.  People joke that we don’t get Monday Night Football until Thursday.  So technology isn’t really my thing.  My main tech experience is a GPS touchscreen in the tractor, not a laptop. Since my Dad can’t really help me with tech support, I’m kind of on my own to figure it out.”

An Early Bird

Daniel’s days start early with breakfast and homework before heading to the fields.  “My Dad helps keep me on track.  I have to do school work in the morning.  After I finish fieldwork, I go to bed thinking about what I have to do on the farm the next day.  Dad reminds me to focus – that school comes first.” But Daniel’s discovered the downside to online learning too.

“I’m not getting the hands-on learning experience.  I learn by watching what other people do., especially in math.  It helps to see someone work out problems in real-time.” He knows that university resources exist, but they aren’t always convenient. “ I call classmates often and we help each other. If it’s not Zooom time and you have an assignment due, you need answers right then.  We don’t expect professors to be on call 24/7, and most of them are responsive to email, but a lot of times for my work schedule, I have to start ahead of time and then end up finishing right before an assignment is due. More times than not, I turn it in and hope it’s ok.”

Despite the challenges in his second semester, Daniel doesn’t expect the hiccup to affect his degree timing.  He thinks this new level of education will be of value back home. “I want my degree to make me a bigger asset because it’s something they don’t have.  I hope I bring back something new – a new perspective they don’t have and could use.” 

Four men standing in a tractor bucket
Daniel McDonald (right) with Jacob Conner, Jackson Davis, and Zack Conner

Want to Become a Workforce Asset? 

Our two and four-year students take home knowledge leading to in-demand careers. Learn more about student degree pathways, our two-year Agricultural Institute, or sign up for an undergraduate’s guided email tour of our Crop & Soil Sciences Department.  It’s how we are growing the future.