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### Inaugural Agronomy Fellowship Awarded to Graduate Student from MSU

Paul O’Neal, a postgraduate student in the Mississippi State Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, is analyzing soil in a field at MSU’s R.R. Foil Plant Science Research Center. (Photo by Dominique Belcher)


STARKVILLE, Miss.—A newly established fellowship is upholding the tradition of excellence in soybean research in Mississippi, with a graduate student from Mississippi State University at the forefront.

Paul O’Neal from the MSU Department of Plant and Soil Sciences has been selected as the inaugural recipient of the Dr. Larry G. Heatherly Graduate Fellow in Agronomy Excellence.

The fellowship commemorates Heatherly’s extensive and influential career in soybean research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Over his three-decade tenure as a research scientist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Stoneville, Heatherly introduced innovative soybean management techniques that revolutionized industry practices across the mid-southern U.S.

To honor Heatherly’s esteemed legacy and commitment to soybean research, the Mississippi Soybean Promotion Board generously donated $250,000 to the MSU Foundation to establish this fellowship. The endowment will support graduate student research, providing scholarships and stipends to fellowship recipients.

O’Neal was raised in a farming family in Shelby, a town in the Mississippi Delta. His father, an agricultural producer in Bolivar County, cultivates soybeans and other crops.

Trent Irby, an extension professor in the plant and soil sciences department, shared, “I’ve known Paul and his family since I began my career as a soybean specialist 12 years ago. I’ve collaborated on various Extension initiatives with his father over the years. When Paul was pursuing his undergraduate degree, he applied for a student worker position in my program.”

Having completed his bachelor’s degree last May, O’Neal promptly commenced his postgraduate studies under Irby’s mentorship. Together, they are assessing soybean crop management strategies related to early-season replanting.

Given that the soybean planting season in Mississippi spans from late March to early July, significant fluctuations in weather conditions occur, impacting stand establishment and necessitating replanting. Irby and O’Neal are conducting a project to assess optimal management practices for enhancing yield and profitability when confronted with replanting decisions.

Expressing his gratitude for O’Neal’s choice to join his program, Irby remarked, “He is curious, driven, and skilled, making him a pleasure to work with. I also appreciate the Soybean Promotion Board for their benevolence and dedication to supporting student education.”

Receiving this fellowship is a tremendous honor for O’Neal. He stated, “Dr. Heatherly has made significant contributions to soybean production systems, and I am privileged to have this opportunity to conduct my own soybean research.”

For more information on the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in the MSU College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, visit [Department of Plant and Soil Sciences](Paul O’Neil).

Mississippi State University prioritizes what is important. Find out more at [Mississippi State University](Paul O’Neil).