Most boys, and men for that matter, get a good talking to when they come inside with dirty hands. During a typical work day for Chris Augustin, however, dirty hands come with the territory.
Augustin is area extension specialist/soil health at North Central Research Extension Center south of Minot. He spends his days working with soil, trying to figure out how to keep it healthy and helping area producers plan ahead.
He has spent his entire life involved with soil in one fashion or another. Augustin was raised on the family farm near Crystal, in northeast North Dakota about 30 miles from both the borders of Canada and Minnesota.
Dan Feldner/MDN • Soil is so important to Chris Augustin, area extension specialist/soil health at North Central Research Extension Center south of Minot, that he keeps a sample of it on his desk from his college studies at North Dakota State University.
"When I grew up we were selling certified seed potatoes, sugar beets and certified seed wheat. Every now and then we'd have some sunflowers or some beans," Augustin said. "I was in fifth grade the first time I ever drove a rotobeater."
Helping out on the family farm is something he still does to this day. Although his father has retired from farming and the land is rented out to a neighbor, Augustin still goes back to help with the sugar beet harvest. This year marked the 20th harvest he has helped with.
While he enjoys farming, Augustin is generally too busy with work to help out as much as he would like.
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"Every now and then in the spring I go home and help with some stuff on the weekends, and the same thing during harvest," Augustin said. "If I'm not hunting or at a football game, I'm probably at home farming, helping the neighbor out."
He had a thirst for knowledge throughout high school, which led to his interest in science. In fact, Augustin probably watches the Science Channel the same way most people watch reality TV. Oddly enough, his other televised passion is the satirical cartoon "South Park," making for an unlikely combination.
He took his passion for science to North Dakota State University, where he started out in wildlife management and interned with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
"I started thinking soils are pretty cool," Augustin said. "The main thing I like about soils is I get to play with physics, chemistry, geology and biology - your major science disciplines - and also work with farmers. I think that's pretty cool."
Augustin said the tipping point for his love of soil science was when he took Soils 210 from Dr. David Hopkins.
"That's when I really fell in love with soils. I think I've told Dr. Hopkins a couple of times he's one of the biggest reasons why I ended up going into soils," Augustin said. "His passion and knowledge of the class - and he was a fun teacher, I thought - got me interested in soil science."
He got both his bachelor's and master's degrees from NDSU in natural resources management with a soil emphasis.
Although his degree was in soil, Augustin's first job after college had him specializing in something else entirely. He worked at the Carrington Research Extension Center as a nutrient management specialist.
"That's a fancy way of saying cow poop expert," Augustin said. "I liked to refer to myself as number one in the number two business in North Dakota."
A week shy of finishing his fourth year in Carrington, he started working at the North Central Research Extension Center in mid-March of this year.
As the area extension specialist for soil health, Augustin deals with a variety of soil-related topics, including soil health, cover crops, soil salinity and working with producers to try and figure out management practices that can help improve North Dakota's soil resources.
Augustin has been kept busy since he walked through the door. While he enjoyed his job in Carrington, Augustin said he had to be proactive with outreach by going to area producers and talking with them and telling them he was there to help them with their manure management plan. Needless to say, a manure management plan was generally on the backside of most producers' thoughts.
Things couldn't have been any more different when he came to Minot.
"With this position I came in on day one and it was like they had been standing by the phones ready to call me. I've been very busy with farm visits, helping agents with questions that they get from producers, and it's hard to believe that it's already October," Augustin said. "I hit the ground running and I haven't really stopped yet."
In fact, when Augustin spoke with The Minot Daily News Oct. 1, he said that was the first day in two weeks that he had actually been in the office.
"And about 10 days before that was the last time I was in the office for the day," he said.
Being out and about that much suits Augustin just fine. He said working with area farmers to help them get the most from their soil is actually the most enjoyable part of his job. At one point he thought about becoming a teacher, so being an area extension specialist helps him scratch that teaching itch on a daily basis. It also allows him to participate in two other activities he dearly loves - science and farming.
"With this job I get to play scientist and farmer," Augustin said. "With research plots I get to play a little bit of farmer, and then when you're analyzing data it's scientist, or when you're trying to design your field it's scientist."