2013 Star in Agriscience Finalist: Mark Keck

Mark Keck considers himself extremely observant. He likes asking questions and searching for answers.

When he was a freshman in high school, his father, an independent crop consultant, came home and started talking about a new product for crop farmers, a nitrogen inhibitor that claimed to raise corn, rice and potato yields by stabilizing nitrogen.

He became curious. Both he and his father wanted to make sure the product worked as promised before any recommendations were made to farmers to buy and use it.

So Keck created a test plot and performed an experiment to test the claims of the products. He performed the same experiment repeatedly for three consecutive years. His conclusion: It worked.

Then, his efforts focused on comparing the new product to similar products on the market to determine which one performs the best. After enrolling at the University of South Dakota, Keck teamed up with a statistics professor to analyze the data collected from Keck’s side-by-side comparison of nitrogen inhibitors.

“By generating and using statistics, we discovered that the year and soil type affect the outcome of the inhibitor,” he said. “I would not have attributed those variables to the outcome of my experiments without the creation and analysis of the statistics involved.”

Keck concluded through statistical analysis that a farmer harvesting 1,500 acres who added the new nitrogen inhibitor product to his nitrogen application would make up to $82,500 more a year.

Keck shared the results with Farmer’s Pride Co-op, the largest provider of inhibitors in the Midwest. After the co-op shared Keck’s findings with its customers, sales of the new product skyrocketed.

“Conducting this experiment over time made me understand the significance in sampling, reading samples, carrying out a research project, making a hypothesis and conclusion and other scientific methods.”

Keck is a 2013 finalist for an American Star in Agriscience award from the National FFA Organization.

Each year at the National FFA Convention & Expo, four FFA members are honored with an American Star award for outstanding accomplishments in FFA and agricultural education. The award is the most prestigious honor awarded to a student by the National FFA Organization.

The American Star awards – including the American Star Farmer, American Star in Agribusiness, American Star in Agricultural Placement and American Star in Agriscience – are awarded to FFA members who demonstrate outstanding agricultural skills and competencies through completion of a supervised agricultural experience. A required activity in FFA, a supervised agriculture experience allows students to learn by doing by either owning and operating an agricultural business, working or serving an internship at an agriculture-based business or conducting an agriculture-based scientific experiment and reporting results.

Other requirements to achieve the award include demonstrating top management skills; completing key agricultural education, scholastic and leadership requirements; and earning an American FFA Degree, the organization’s highest level of student accomplishment.

Sixteen American Star award finalists from throughout the U.S. are nominated for a panel of judges to interview during convention. Four are named winners and receive cash awards totaling $4,000. All American Star finalists receive a $2,000 cash award. The Stars Over America are sponsored by ADM Crop Risk Services; CASE IH; DuPont Pioneer; Elanco; Farm Credit and Syngenta as a special project of the National FFA Foundation.

Keck, 20, is a member of the Plainview High School FFA chapter in Plainview, Neb., led by advisor Chad Kment. He attends the University of South Dakota.

He is the son of Angie and Steve Keck.

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About National FFA Organization
The National FFA Organization is a national youth organization of 557,318 student members as part of 7,498 local FFA chapters in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The FFA mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. The National FFA Organization operates under a federal charter granted by the 81st United States Congress and it is an integral part of public instruction in agriculture. The U.S. Department of Education provides leadership and helps set direction for FFA as a service to state and local agricultural education programs. For more, visit the National FFA Organization online at www.FFA.org, on Facebook, Twitter and the official National FFA Organization blog.