Decades of Agronomy Education Shows Through for Two Alumni

By Sayde Uerkwitz

As Mike Cuzzort and Aaron Englert arrive at work, they realize there is more in common between them than being employed at Superior Ag Resources CO-OP in Princeton, Indiana. They both are alumni of the Purdue Department of Agronomy. Although they graduated nearly 45 years apart, their education from Purdue has withstood a generation of changes in the agriculture industry.

Englert, BS ’13, is a newly hired agronomist and seed salesman while Cuzzort, BS ’69, has stepped down from a full-time to part-time applicator.
Jesse Uebehlor, Superior Ag Resources CO-OP agronomy sales manager, said the relationship between Englert and Cuzzort is influential.

“Mike has been involved with this company for many years, so he has been part of countless situations from every angle,” Uebehlor said. “Aaron came to us with a great amount of knowledge of agronomy and the geographical area we cover. They are able to teach and help each other because they both have a passion for this business and rely on each other’s strengths.”

There is even more in common between these two Purdue Agronomy graduates. They both attended Vincennes University before completing their bachelor’s degree at Purdue, they both are from southern Indiana, and both have a passion for teaching others about agronomy.​

Through the years

Cuzzort grew up on a farm where they raised corn, wheat and melons.

“My dad was the type of farmer who wasn’t afraid to incorporate new technology into his farming operation,” Cuzzort said. “He was the first farmer in the area to have a self-propelled combine. I guess with this mentality on our farm, I was encouraged to continue my education after high school.”
After applying to Vincennes University and completing three years of course work, Cuzzort made the decision to earn his bachelor’s degree.
“Dr. Ellsworth Christmas was teaching classes at Vincennes at the time. He saw the potential I had to obtain a bachelor’s degree and encouraged me to attend Purdue. I was always interested in agronomy and studying at one of best agronomy programs in the country made the decision much easier.”
Dr. Christmas recalls teaching Cuzzort and the type of student he was.

“Vincennes University and Purdue University have a cooperative agreement in the agriculture program where Purdue will supply the faculty to teach two classes in the areas of horticulture, animal sciences, agricultural economics and agronomy at Vincennes,” Christmas said. “I was the agronomy faculty member during the time Mike was at Vincennes. The group of students I had the first two years were academically outstanding, which was the group Mike was in. I had no issues with these students. The only problem I ran into was that some were concerned about continuing their education at a school like Purdue. I knew they could do well at Purdue, so I encouraged them to finish out their degree. Some even attended graduate school.”
After graduating from Purdue University and moving back to his home area, Cuzzort took a job with Princeton Farms, a family owned and operated farm, as their production manager. After the farm was bought out in 1995, Cuzzort started with Gibson County CO-OP, now Superior Ag Resources.

“The year Gibson CO-OP hired me, I started in the fall at the elevator. In the spring I transitioned to an applicator, and this is where I’ve been ever 
since.”

Cuzzort has seen several changes during his time in the agricultural industry.
“I was in one of the first groups to go through the Pesticide Applicator License training. I was able to be certified in four different areas at one time. When I register at events, they ask what my number is. There is a surprised look on their face when I tell them it is 493.  The biggest change I see in agriculture is precision farming.  More people are attuned to the idea of better production, if the right technology is used, farmers can achieve their production goals.”

Cuzzort said his Purdue degree not only taught him about agronomy, but much more. “My experiences at Purdue taught me to make decisions, the right decisions.”

Looking Forward

Englert grew up helping his family manage a dairy production facility.

“I found my passion for agriculture in the dairy industry. As I grew older, I started to explore different parts of agriculture and found that the area of agronomy interested me. I knew I wanted to be in the farming industry when I grew-up, and wanted to do more on the crop side. I am still interested in livestock, and like how my two interests are related.”

When Englert was a student in the Purdue Department of Agronomy, he was heavily involved with many agronomic activities across campus.
“Being part of the Agronomy Club, Purdue Soil Judging Team and helping with Ag Week opened up many opportunities for me during college. These organizations  allowed me to network with professionals from different parts of the industry at events like Spring Fest and the Purdue Ag Alumni Fish Fry.”

Sherry Fulk-Bringman, Purdue Agronomy Club advisor, said Englert hit the ground running and never looked back when he joined the department.
“When Aaron came to Purdue we knew he was going to do well in agronomy, inside and outside the classroom,” Fulk-Bringman said. “Aaron is a great leader who has the skills to encourage others. He worked hard to become the Agronomy Club president and made the club a place where more students could get involved and learn about agronomy and agriculture.”

Dr. Gary Steinhardt, Purdue Soils Judging Coach, adds that Englert is the type of person you can rely on.
“Aaron goes beyond the requirements and improves the situation,” Steinhardt said. “When he was on the soils team, he was willing to help anywhere he could.”

Cathy Egler, Purdue Soils Judging Team Assistant Coach and past Vincennes University adjunct professor in soil classification, remembers Englert as a student.

“I specifically remember Aaron because he came to my class although he wasn’t signed up for it,” Egler said. “He attended my three hour lab to just learn more about soils. This is not heard of very often, in most cases it is hard getting students to come to class.”
Like most Purdue Agronomy graduates, Englert started his career a few days after graduation.

“I accepted my position with Superior Ag Resources the November before graduation,” Englert said. “As an agronomy student I interned with Superior Ag Resources for two years. It was nice having a strong relationship with my employer before I was hired full-time. There are great opportunities in agronomy, my peers either were going onto graduate school or had a job. That says a lot about Purdue and the need the industry has for incoming professionals.”

Englert adds what he learned in college was the foundation to his early career.

“The courses I took in college set me up to better serve our customers. Courses that covered soils, plant diseases and physiology helped me prepare to answer the questions our customers have. I would not have learned these skills without going to college. I became a well-rounded person and have a better understanding of what it takes to raise a crop correctly.”

Englert said the favorite part of his job is helping people make decisions that will improve their business. “I could not do this part of my job without my Purdue Agronomy degree.”

As a recent graduate Englert appreciates working with Cuzzort, someone who has experience with the company and the industry.
Cuzzort said he hopes throughout his career he has influenced the younger generation. “There have been a lot of changes in this industry and if I can help the younger folks coming in with experiences that I’ve had, then I guess I’ve reached one of my goals.”
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