From Student to Specialist

Nick Wesslak, who earned two degrees from CAFNR, is putting his education to use as an agronomy field specialist with MU Extension

As a high school student in Salem, Mo., Nick Wesslak was an active member of his local FFA chapter. That experience not only introduced him to the University of Missouri, it also showed him an interesting career path – one that he is now serving in with MU Extension.

Wesslak earned two degrees from Mizzou – a bachelor’s degree in plant sciences and a master’s degree in natural resources. After stops in two states, Wesslak recently joined MU Extension as an agronomy field specialist where he covers eight counties in northeast Missouri.

“I’m really happy to be back in the black and gold,” Wesslak said. “I’ve always had a ton of respect for Mizzou, and it’s been exciting to go from a student to an employee. It’s neat because some of my professors are now my colleagues.”

Wesslak’s interest in agronomy led him to the plant sciences degree program at Mizzou. He chose the crop management emphasis area and also added a minor in agricultural systems technology. Photo courtesy of Nick Wesslak.Wesslak’s interest in agronomy led him to the plant sciences degree program at Mizzou. He chose the crop management emphasis area and also added a minor in agricultural systems technology. Photo courtesy of Nick Wesslak.

Wesslak was born in Missouri but his family moved to Alabama when he was young. They moved back to the Show-Me State right before Wesslak was set to begin high school. The Wesslak family had their own farming operation, and Wesslak found other opportunities to immerse himself in the agriculture industry, including working for another farmer. His time in FFA only added to his already growing interest in agriculture.

“The first time I ever stepped foot on the Mizzou campus was during my freshman year of high school when I competed in the state agronomy competition through FFA,” Wesslak said. “So while I was making a ton of agriculture connections through the organization, I was also, unknowingly, getting a look at the university I would eventually attend.”

Wesslak said that MU was the only university that he applied to.

“By the time I was making my college decision, I was really interested in working in agronomy,” Wesslak said. “I figured the best way to do that was to go to the biggest land-grant university in the state.”

While being an FFA member connected Wesslak with Mizzou, it also showed him a job that he found extremely interesting within extension.

“With our farming operation at home, we did interact with extension every so often,” Wesslak said. “A specialist would come to answer questions, and we would utilize their knowledge. We also had specialists come to talk to us during some of our FFA classes. I remember hearing all that the agronomist in our area did, and that really opened the door for me to see agronomy as a viable career option.”

Wesslak’s interest in agronomy led him to the plant sciences degree program. He chose the crop management emphasis area and also added a minor in agricultural systems technology.

“I loved my time in plant sciences,” Wesslak said. “The faculty and staff were great; I never felt like I was just a number. Coming from a rural area, a lot of people told me that I would get lost in the crowd at such a big school. That wasn’t the case at all.”

Wesslak held a couple of different jobs as he pursued his degree, too. He worked with field operations and also had a position at Foremost Dairy.

“I like being outside and both opportunities allowed me to apply what I was learning in the classroom to real-life situations,” Wesslak said. “I also realized that I enjoyed working with big equipment and I was more interested in row crops than say, forages. I was operating this high-powered equipment and getting paid for it. It was awesome.

“I also built so many great relationships through those opportunities. One of the guys I worked with out at Foremost was a groomsman in my wedding, for example.”

Wesslak did his master’s work with Peter Motavalli, an emeritus professor of soil fertility and plant nutrition. Wesslak performed a variety of tasks as a master’s student and was part of numerous yield trials.

“I chose the soil, environmental and atmospheric sciences emphasis area as I felt it would be a great addition to my plant sciences degree,” Wesslak said. “I felt like I got the entire agronomy experience during my time at Mizzou.”

Wesslak’s research primarily focused on soybean varietal responses to foliar nutrition applications during ideal and waterlogged soil conditions. It was work that helped him land a job in Mississippi.

“After earning my master’s degree, I was doing a bit of crop scouting for a company in Illinois,” Wesslak said. “I eventually got an offer to work with a seed company in Mississippi. I found out later that a big reason for why they hired me was because of my work with Dr. Motavalli. It was fun to call him up and share with him that our work led to a job opportunity. You never know what will make you stand out.”

Wesslak has been with MU Extension for nearly a year, joining in April 2022. He is based out of Marion County and serves Clark, Knox, Lewis, Marion, Monroe, Ralls, Scotland and Shelby counties. As an agronomist, his days vary. He fields phone calls, conducts 1-on-1 meetings and helps with numerous issues. He has a variety of programming and trainings that he works on, too. Wesslak has already been involved in soybean cyst nematode sampling, migratory insect monitoring and pesticide applicator training. He has plans to teach at a grazing school this summer and is hoping to offer some agriculture safety trainings later this year.

“It’s been really amazing to be back,” Wesslak said. “Everyone is very knowledgeable, nice and willing to help out. There’s a lot going on, and it’s exciting to be part of the growth. I’m thrilled to be in this role where I can help others be more successful.”