Emily Rutledge, a freshman majoring in nursing at the University of North Georgia (UNG), placed fifth in the Agriscience Fair during the 88th National Future Farmers of America (FFA) Convention, held in Louisville, Kentucky, Oct. 28-31.
Continuing research that she began in her senior year of high school, Rutledge presented a method she has been exploring that could help impoverished countries increase their food production.
"Legumes are the only known type of plant that contains rhizobia, a type of bacteria in the root that helps the plant maintain optimum levels of nitrogen," Rutledge said. "I tried inoculating corn with rhizobia to see how the corn would respond, and the inoculant increased the average seed germination rate from 21 to 32."
She won first place in her division at the state-level fair, and of the 50 first-place state winners, she was one of the 15 chosen to compete nationally. Rutledge became interested in her line of research during a mission trip to Guatemala as part of an agricultural independent study course.
"I saw firsthand the need they have for food, so I wanted to do research that could help countries increase their food production rate," Rutledge said. "I wanted to start with a staple crop of Guatemala. I had seen a previous experiment about rhizobial inoculation, so I decided to try it with corn. The previous project also used corn, but they had not conducted in-depth research about the effects."
She said the next step is to perform the same experiment in soil from other countries and on other crops.
"For Emily to have had this kind of experience as a freshman is phenomenal," said Andy Novobilski, associate provost for research and engagement and chief research officer at UNG. "Transformational opportunities like this can guide a student's professional career through new ideas, networking, collaboration, and many other outcomes. I'm sure she will be able to look back years from now and see how this research and conference positively impacted her professional trajectory."
Rutledge is currently majoring in nursing but she is considering pursuing agricultural education to become a teacher.
During the Agriscience Fair, students from grades 7 through 12 can compete in one of six categories: animal systems; environmental services/natural resource systems; food products and processing systems; plant systems; power, structural and technical systems; and social systems.