By Amber Friedrichsen
Like many students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, being an FFA member piqued Allee Koestner’s curiosity of the agricultural industry. In high school, operating a plot of row crops with her brothers unearthed her interest in production, which led her to Iowa State University.
Now a senior in agronomy, Koestner views crop science and soil science from a much broader perspective. After assisting in research projects based on both fields of study, she has come to recognize how one influences the other. More specifically, Koestner has dug deep to examine how plants interact with microbial communities.
“I have always liked crop physiology and my experiences have always been crop-focused, but I was excited to get more into the soil side of things,” Koestner said. “The longer I have been in agronomy, the more I realize how important the entire system is as a whole.”
As a member of the Honors Program, Koestner developed a research project based on the book “For the Love of Soil,” by Nicole Masters. She heard the author speak about how soil bacteria and fungi affect plant growth, and was inspired to take what she had learned to the next level. Koestner designed an experiment to survey soil microbial populations from two fields: one that incorporated cover crops into its rotation, and another that used no-till planting.
Marshall McDaniel, assistant professor in agronomy, oversaw Koestner’s Honors project. He recognized Koestner’s potential as a scientist and said she was an excellent addition to his team.
“Allee did outstanding work by taking initiative and being resourceful in learning new methods,” McDaniel said. “She eagerly and quickly learned complex and statistical tools, data visualization, and scientific communication skills that will pay off as she moves on.”
At the end of the study, results varied between the different fields when the amounts of bacteria and fungi were analyzed separately, but when this data was combined, there was no significant difference in microbial population. Even though Koestner concluded that further research must be done on the topic, the project helped her realize where her strengths lie.
After graduation, Koestner will begin working as a field specialist with Advance Agrilytics. She is looking forward to interacting with farmers and helping them become more familiar with advanced technology. The company emphasizes precision agriculture, so Koestner will be able to transfer her knowledge of agronomy and data analytics into her career.
“I like being out in the field, seeing crops grow throughout the season, and talking to the people who are working with them,” Koestner said. “Data-driven agriculture is definitely on the rise, and I think it is a way to make production more efficient for farmers.”
Soil microbial populations aside, an entirely different type of community has left a lasting impression on Koestner during her time at Iowa State as well. The friends she has made on campus – and during the semester she spent at the University of Hawaii at Moana through National Student Exchange – have come to define her college experience as a positive one.
“As I reflect, the things that stick out to me most are the relationships I’ve built and the opportunities that came along with them,” Koestner said. “Whether it was here or while I was traveling, I’ve built a great community of people, which is something I really appreciate.”