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Darrin McFall – 2017 Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge Award Winner Northeast Arkansas Regional Science Fair

Darrin McFall, 18, a senior at Buffalo Island Central High School in Monette, AR won the Soybean Science Challenge at the 2017 Northeast Arkansas Regional Science Fair held at the Arkansas State University on March 16.

McFall received a $300 cash award provided by the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board at the Awards Ceremony. His science project titled “Analyzing the Effects of Anionic Polyacrylamide on Row Crop Health and Emergence” was conducted to analyze growth, health, and emergence rates of common row crops under ideal conditions with applications of polyacrylamide. McFall’s project also won 1st Place in Plant Sciences, 1st Place in the Junior Academy of Sciences, the Air Force Engineering Award and 2nd Place overall at the fair.

His project is eligible for judging for the Soybean Science Challenge $1,000 award at the Arkansas State Fair, held on March 31 and April 1st at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.

Kristen Thomas, McFall’s teacher, also won the Soybean Science Challenge Teacher Mentor Award. “This is clearly a huge honor, but the main reason I received recognition is because I have a very talented student who is invested in the science fair and his research. The sustainability of soybeans is a very important endeavor, and I could not be more proud of Darrin for representing Buffalo Island Central and Northeast Arkansas,” said Thomas.

McFall also won the 2016 Soybean Science Challenge and was very happy and proud to become the 2017 winner as well. “I really enjoyed presenting my research and possibly applying it to actual crop production in Arkansas,” he said.

McFall liked revisiting the facts about soybean production along with the plant science and biological aspects of soybeans in his review of the online course. “I have always been interested in botany, so this section of the course appealed to me the most.”

Since McFall participated in The Challenge last year, he knew the basics of soybean production in Arkansas and how important soybeans are to Arkansas’ agricultural industry. He also grew up in a farming community.

However, Thomas had virtually no knowledge about soybeans until McFall’s participation in The Challenge. “I’ve lived in Arkansas for most of my life, but farming is not as big in my hometown as it is here in Northeast Arkansas,” she said.

Through McFall’s participation in this challenge Thomas learned the basics about soybeans and the importance of investment in sustainability research. “I didn’t realize the various uses for soybeans or the many challenges that soybean farmers face.”

Mandy McFall, Darrin’s mother, is a teacher and former researcher. She said Darrin has a passion for agriculture and what research means for the future of farms across the nation. “He was raised in a family with a science, agriculture, and mechanical background which has helped him develop the skills he has used in his research.”

Thomas said McFall has a special interest and talent in science and knows from his science class the importance of research. “He further developed his independence and research skills. I think he learned more with this challenge than he could in a classroom.”

Thomas also mentioned that McFall has a passion for his research and that he demonstrated his commitment to his science project by driving four hours from another conference to present his project to the Soybean Science Challenge judges.

Active in other areas of science and math, McFall joined a robotics team at an early age and taught himself computer coding. Since age 16, he has worked as a computer programmer and research assistant for Arkansas State University. Recently, he helped his EAST initiative program win The Founders Award.

His mother said, “As a teacher I have not encountered another student with as much drive as Darrin has. As a parent, I am so excited for what the future holds for him.” McFall plans to build on his research in plant sciences in college and said this project has helped him formulate better projects for the future.

“The Soybean Science Challenge allows Arkansas senior-high students to participate in scientific discovery that can make a difference to our state and the world. Soybean farmers help feed the world, and Soybean Science Challenge students not only learn about this important commodity crop, they also develop an understanding of the challenges and complexity of modern farming,” said Dr. Karen Ballard, Extension developer and director of the program.

“The goal of the Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge is to engage students in “real world” education to support soybean production and agricultural sustainability,” said Gary Sitzer, chairman of the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board. “The program also rewards scientific inquiry and discovery that supports the Arkansas soybean industry.”

The Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge was launched in January 2014 to 9-12 grade science students. Students who successfully completed the online course were eligible to have their original soybean-related research projects judged at the 2017 ISEF affiliated Arkansas science and engineering fairs.

Information on the 2017-18 Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge will be available in summer 2017. For more information, contact Dr. Karen Ballard at

The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Darrin McFall – Completed Course, 2016 – Buffalo Island Central High School – Teacher, Kristen Thomas

Category: Plant Sciences

Project Title: Analyzing the Effects of Anionic Polyacrylamide on Row Crop Health and Emergence


Anionic polyacrylamide (PAM), a soil flocculant and erosion stabilizing polymer, can be used in irrigation to help promote soil quality and reduce the amount of water needed to efficiently irrigate crops. This experiment was conducted to analyze growth, health, and emergence rates of common row crops under ideal conditions with applications of polyacrylamide. Corn, cotton, grain sorghum, and soybeans were planted in microplots containing a commonly used soil complex in row crop production (Routon-Dundee-Crevasse Complex). These initial plots were irrigated with water containing PAM at rates of 0, 5, and 10 mg/L twice throughout the first four weeks of growth. Emergence data was taken over a two week period after planting. After the first four weeks of growth were over, every plant was evaluated for height and number of leaves produced with PAM. The experiment was repeated to further determine the effects of PAM on corn, sorghum, and soybeans. PAM significantly improved plant emergence rates and the overall health of crops in comparison with the control. Plants under PAM treatment generally produced a higher number of leaves and grew taller through more vigorous, early season growth.

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