Editor’s note: Two new cotton specialists, Drs. Ben McKnight and Brian Pieralisi, have been appointed by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and Mississippi State Extension Service, respectively. Be sure to check out their comments each month in our Specialists Speaking department.
Ben McKnight’s acceptance of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service statewide cotton specialist position is a return to familiar territory. McKnight started April 1 in the Texas A&M University Department of Soil and Crop Sciences at College Station.
“Ben is certainly no stranger to Texas having been born and raised in East Texas, or to Texas A&M as he obtained his master’s here in the Soil and Crop Sciences Department,” says Dr. Larry Redmon, associate department head and AgriLife Extension program leader for the department. “We look forward to Ben developing a strong state-wide cotton program and presence.”
McKnight worked for both Texas A&M AgriLife Research and AgriLife Extension while earning degrees at Texas A&M. He has spent the past few years working as a weed scientist with Louisiana State University, where he earned his doctorate.
During his postdoctoral research and as a research associate at LSU AgCenter, McKnight conducted rice field trials at research and grower locations. As a graduate research assistant, he worked in the Rice Weed Management Program conducting and managing field and glasshouse trials.
During his time with AgriLife Research, he assisted the Rice Weed Management research program with applying herbicide treatments, collecting and organizing data, and harvesting research plots.
McKnight says his transition back to Texas and into cotton should be smooth because he is driven by solving problems as an agronomist.
“There are quite a few similarities between cotton and rice regarding the intensity of management,” he says. “Both require extensive management to produce a successful crop. I am looking forward to drawing from my past experiences working in rice management in this new position. Accepting this position is also a homecoming for me. As a Texas native, I am very familiar with the passion that our growers and industry have for cotton production.”
From a field research standpoint, his plan is to continue evaluating different research topics of interest to cotton production in the state.
“I am very passionate about helping growers develop management practices that increase their profitability,” McKnight says. “I really enjoy interacting with people, so my hope is things will begin to normalize soon. I’m looking forward to getting out in the state to meet our stakeholders and my new colleagues.
“I’m a very hands-on learner, and I believe that most people in agriculture are, too. So I want to participate in field days and grower meetings, in addition to working with others to develop hands-on training activities for our county agents, producers and clientele in the future.”
The Mississippi State University Extension Service has a new cotton specialist. Brian Pieralisi was appointed to that role April 1. He replaced Darrin Dodds, who took the helm of the university’s Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.
Pieralisi will work with growers to continue to refine cotton production practices to help them become more profitable. His activities will include cotton variety testing, as well as research and outreach on fertility management, weed control, irrigation, harvest aids and other areas of cotton production.
“As with all aspects of agriculture, sustainability of our farming operations and our environment will be addressed through research and outreach efforts,” Dodds says. “Brian’s background of education and experience is very unique and will allow him to work with growers and students and provide multiple perspectives to each.”
A native of Leland, Mississippi, Pieralisi earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural pest management from MSU before returning to his family farm and earning a master’s degree in business administration from Delta State University.
He returned to MSU where he earned a doctorate in agronomy with an emphasis on nutrient management and soil fertility.
“Our cotton producers have relied on the resources of MSU Extension for more than a century when seeking research-based information and insight in refining their production and yields,” says MSU Extension director Gary Jackson. “Brian joins a long line of agronomists and row crop specialists who have been at the forefront of technological advances in agriculture, and our cotton growers will benefit greatly from having him in their corner.”
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and Mississippi State Extension Service provided this information.