Everyone has a different reason for attending ABAC. Each story is particular but every story at ABAC hopes to include one common element: graduation. Students spend countless hours studying, creating and stressing for that piece of paper. It is a symbol to the rest of the world that you can commit to a challenge and persevere through it.

     After the walk across the stage, the next step for some is work, for others, continuing their education in grad school. Ryan Weredyk earned his Bachelor’s of Diversified Agriculture degree in May of 2018, graduating Cum Laude. He is now a graduate student and research assistant for the University of Georgia-Tifton campus.

     Ryan is from Guyton, Georgia. It’s about three and a half hours from Tifton. He came to ABAC in the fall of 2014 as a diversified ag major in general ag. “As I progressed throughout my studies, at first I thought I was more interested in the livestock side of things, but I got more interested in crops and vegetables.” Back home his family had cattle, but it wasn’t until he started taking his fruit and vegetable courses that he developed his love for soil.

     He recalls his time at ABAC citing Justin Ng, not only as his academic advisor but also one of his favorite teachers. “He was always a good guy and could tell you anything you needed to know.” Ng described Weredyk as, “a hardworking student who has experience in a wide variety of agriculture from turf care, to scouting to field production. He even tutored younger ag students while he was here.”

     After graduating ABAC, Weredyk didn’t know exactly where he was going next, “I hadn’t been really looking for a job much, but getting my master’s was something that had always been in the back of my mind.” He wanted to enter UGA’s Master’s of Plant Protection and Pest Management (MPPPM). Before he could start the program, he had to return to ABAC during the summer to take a couple of chemistry courses. After finishing the credits, he took the Graduate Record Exam to get into the MPPPM.

Ryan Weredyk inspecting rows of collard greens for his research assistantship at UGA. Weredyk is pursuing a Master’s of Plant Protection and Pest Management. Photo by Billy Ray Malone.

     Weredyk has dreams of becoming a county extension agent. Extension offices are a sort of public outreach for anything that has to do with soil. “It’s someone that the farmers or even your everyday gardener can call about their grass or ask for help if something isn’t growing.”

     All extension offices house experts in the field. Agents are required to have a master’s to work. If you can prove that you are being educated for your master’s you can apply to be an agent.

     “A lot of these guys go ahead and get a job in the extension office while they’re working on their masters. It helps you get experience in the field.” He expressed that becoming an extension agent was something he figured out while at ABAC. “I’m the type of person who likes to talk to people, to inform them about things. So, the extension was a way I could talk to not only farmers but everyday people.”

     Currently, Weredyk works as a research assistant in the MPPPM. Through the program, his tuition is covered, he gains work experience and he receives a monthly paycheck. He works under Dr. Alton “Sparky” Sparks. Weredyk said, “The first day I met him I called him, Dr. Sparks and he said, ‘you must be new here. Call me Sparky.’” He also happens to teach Weredyk’s pesticides and transgenic crops course.

     In research with pest management and weed science, there is a constant push in the field to provide the best information. “I had a professor last semester that wrote one of the books for our class. He told us that we shouldn’t use it because it was already outdated,” said Weredyk. He and Sparks are doing research on what is known as, “Hort Hill.”

     The research is in vegetable entomology, which is technical speak for the bugs that target certain crops. Researchers need to learn the best way to get rid of the pests without harming the plants or soil. Weredyk runs trials on different vegetable groups grown to attract a specific insect.

     Currently, they are growing collard greens to study a specific nuisance, the diamondback moth. The moths will tear through the leaves of a collard plant, but what makes them truly annoying is the larvae they leave behind.

     These larvae soon become worms who will do nothing but eat. They are currently a big problem throughout the south, specifically in warmer areas like Tifton. “The problem with the moths is, they are persistent, and they’ve started becoming resistant. A lot of the stuff you used to spray on them doesn’t work anymore. So, we do different trials with different pesticides.”

      The experiment takes place on Hort Hill where they have the plants lined up in the dirt with only a fence separating them and I-75. Each week, Weredyk monitors plants that have been sprayed with the pesticides and watches to see if any leaves get eaten or larvae have developed. They have a control group where nothing is sprayed on the plants. The experiment hinders on the number of leaves that have been affected and the number of larvae found if any. Weredyk must go through and collect data from each plant. “I have to go in and count them one by one. I have to pull them under a microscope and there have been a few times I’ve counted over 100.”

     The experiment isn’t just a way to help combat moth populations, it is a way to actively help the community. “When we can gather all this info, that allows us to accurately inform the extension agents and any growers that are interested. It lets them know that this information is what is really going to work because it’s current.”

Ryan Weredyk discovering a diamondback moth on a collard green plant. Photo by Billy Ray Malone.

     Many more experiments like this are being planned for the summer when vegetables have a real chance to grow. They include crops like cucumbers, squash, sweet potatoes and corn.

     Weredyk describes the transition from ABAC to UGA, “here, the classes are more specific. You get a more in-depth look into what you’re studying and you’re doing it with people who really know their stuff.” He says looking back on it now, those classes at ABAC put him on the path he’s on to expand his knowledge even more.

      He says if he can continue in the program he may earn his doctorate somewhere. But he urges that everyone should be cautious about taking the next step after ABAC. “Continuing my education has been an important thing for me, so I may continue, but I don’t know right now. I think it should be a personal thing people decide for themselves. It’s not for everyone.”

     Weredyk’s boss and teacher, Sparky, also gave students a look into what graduate school is like. He warns students that they should look beyond the classes needed to graduate if they plan on getting into grad school. “Students need to be looking into what courses graduate schools require. They may differ from the classes required to graduate. We all focus on getting onto that stage, it comes after.”

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