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Tall in his field: Lee Briese takes national award

 EDGELEY, N.D. — Lee Briese knows a lot about crops and is working to learn even more. And he wants to share his knowledge with others.

That combination of commitment and knowledge have made made the Edgeley, N.D., agronomist the International Certified Crop Adviser of the Year. Briese received the honor at the recent Commodity Classic in San Antonio.

"Even though we live in North Dakota, there are a lot of disconnects" between agriculture and the rest of the world, says Briese, who works for Centrol. "There's a lot of moving parts in agriculture. I think that's the thing that most people outside (ag) don't realize."

Briese, an International Certified Crop Adviser member since 2000, was selected for the honor because of "his dedication to his profession and his commitment to educating those around him," says the American Society of Agronomy, which announced the award.

The organization also says the Certified Crop Adviser program "establishes a benchmark of professionalism and knowledge for practicing agronomists in North America."

Briese, 42, is active in his profession in many ways:

• Providing consulting services on nine or 10 cash crops, as well as 20 to 30 cover crops. In his career, he's worked with 16 different cash crops.

• Serving as a guest lecturer at North Dakota State University and high a member of the NDSU Soil Health team.

• Appearing in the PBS documentary, Salt of the Earth. "It was an enjoyable experience, and the end product turned out well," he says.

• Working on his doctorate in plant health at the University of Nebraska, while continuing to be a full-time agronomist.

"I keep telling people I'm a plant doctor (already). So I want to have an actual 'DPH' at the end of my name," Briese says. "It's similar to an agronomy degree."

Briese already has a bachelor's degree in crop and weed science and a master's degree in soil science.

"Experience will only carry you so far. Science will only carry you so far. But when you put them together, you get the tools where you can achieve solutions to really complex problems," Briese says. "I'm at the point in my career where I need a little more science."

His profession and education work on somewhat different schedules, which helps him juggle the two.

"When it's busy in the field, school is on break. When school is busy, the work isn't quite as critical in farming," he says, adding, "My profession comes first. The school is an add-on.

Pulling double duty — and the nine-hour, one-way commute between Edgeley and Lincoln, Neb. — is challenging . "I don't do a whole lot of TV-watching," he says.

'Curious about teaching'

His work as an agronomist is physically demanding. "I'm still able to do the outdoor pace and think I can keep doing it another 10 to 15 years," Briese says. "And I'm curious about moving into teaching."

Briese grew up on a family farm in Pettibone, N.D. Times were tough in ag then — "I was a kid of the '80s and my parents discouraged me from going into farming," he says — and he didn't expect ag would become his lifelong career.

But working at a grain elevator in western North Dakota helped him to better understand ag's appeal and importance.

"I decided that I wanted to be part of ag, just in a different way," he says.

Cover crops

Cover crops — or crops grown primarily to enhance soil health and fight pests, rather than for sale — hold particular interest for Briese.

"Cover crops are getting going in a lot of places. The adaption is slow. It's a little scary. There are a lot of unknowns," he says.

Despite their challenges, however, cover crops hold great potential, including their role in controlling weeds and insects.

"We need diversity in managing pests. (The use of cover crops) is not an an end-all or be-all; it's part of the solution," he says.

Briese's advice to farmers interested in getting started with cover crops: "Do it slowly. Learn as you go. Learn from what others are doing."