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Professor Always Interested in Learning Something New

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Dr. Michael Anderson is an associate professor in plant physiology and biochemistry who earned his B.S. in Agronomy at Brigham Young University, and his M.S. in Agronomy and his Ph.D. in Plant Physiology from the University of Minnesota. At the University of Minnesota, Anderson explored the biochemistry behind carbon dioxide fixation by alfalfa root nodules, and during a two-year post-doctoral fellowship, he investigated the mechanism of Atrazine resistance in Velvetleaf.


Anderson said he sees agronomy as a fascinating subject with much complexity.


“My interest in plants dates back to an exemplary botany instructor who explained all the physiological, biochemical and ecological complexities behind plant communities,” Anderson said. “Since there were few job openings in the area of plant science, and after reading a book on agronomy from the school library, I found my area of interest.”


While Anderson will be retiring in January 2024, his last research project seeks to develop a way to produce wheat in Oklahoma without significant inputs such as nitrogen and pesticides. In the recent years, the price of inputs has increased faster than the price of agricultural products, resulting in a squeezing of farm profit margins. Anderson believes it might be possible to use green manure cover crop, certain mulches and a mixture of wheat genetics to decrease the impact of pests and reduce our reliance on nitrogen fertilizer.


“It’s not that I am against these inputs,” he said. “They have worked miracles in the past 70 years to improve productivity and reduce labor requirements, but given the current economy, these costs are likely to continue to increase faster than productivity and economic return.”


His project is in its first year, which he hopes to continue in the next five years, even during his retirement.


As a researcher, Anderson has demonstrated that cover crop supplemented with mulch can produce higher biomass yield and equal grain yield to a conventional approach with weed control and 100 lbs N/acre.


“This is heartening but requires at least another two to three years to demonstrate and refine,” he said. “I hope to provide a system that may help farmers with a more sustainable approach and provide economic benefit with improvements in soil structure and function.”


In his experience teaching, Anderson said he sees students as the future.


“Improvements in agriculture will depend on our current crop of students,” he said. “It is heartening to see students learn and grow professionally. I have taught graduate seminar for about 10 years, and I have been impressed with the research and effort to present to a wide range of expertise found in our department.”


Something that makes Anderson passionate about what he does at Oklahoma State University is his love of research into the complexities of agricultural production systems. Improvement requires the blending of genetics, pathology, entomology, physiology, microbiology, weed science and production system technologies.


“Understanding the systems complexities is a daunting task and I love to always learn something new,” he said. “I never had the privilege to grow up on a farm, so with my current project I am learning things about production agriculture that I never experienced before.”


Anderson thinks it is fun and empowering to try and tackle a problem, to try to come up with solutions, or to know a little more after each day of work.


Anderson had one life experience that he said helped him get to where he is today. In his early twenties, he served a mission in Central America for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and in preparation, he spent almost 16 hours per day in language learning. Through this, he learned concentration and hard work, which helped him in academics. “In my youth I was very shy, but in the mission field, I learned to better interact with others and to love others in whatever circumstances you find them,” he says. “The road from undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate is laced with difficulties that must be overcome, and I was blessed at each step of the way.”


Anderson loves Stillwater, seeing the city as his home and a wonderful place to live. He also loves the people in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.


“Throughout my 33 years of service, I am so grateful to have been employed here and given the opportunity to explore a number of areas of interest,” he said.


“The administration as a whole has been wonderful, and one thing I will always value is the academic freedom to pursue topics that I thought were of interest.”


Being a professor at Oklahoma State University, Anderson has enjoyed his time in this role and hopes he has given back more than he has been given.


Anderson has been married for 45 years, has two adult children and eight grandchildren who are the joys of his life. He has many interests, including hiking, backpacking, climbing mountains in Colorado, kayaking the Oklahoma and Arkansas rivers, tennis with his son and grandkids, and astronomy.


“As a youth I loved to look at the stars, and recently while hiking in Big Bend National Park I rediscovered my reverence for the heavens,” he says. “I recently purchased a telescope, and in retirement I will be using it to look at the many celestial objects that are found in the heavens above. It will be fun.”

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