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Lee French: A Professor and a Researcher

Published Thursday, December 13, 2018
Lee French
Lee French

“SMSU is a great school that is beneficial to students who don’t like large class sizes but enjoy hands-on research opportunities,” said Lee French, SMSU Assistant Professor of Agronomy.

Although SMSU has played a major role in French’s life, he has a diverse background in research and education. French earned his bachelor’s degree from SMSU and his master’s degree from the University of Minnesota. Since earning his degrees, he has taught a variety of courses within SMSU’s School of Agriculture. He also works with the U of M and periodically serves as an adjunct professor for the University of Nebraska.

French not only teaches in the classroom, but he also stays active researching insects and creating varieties that are resistant to root worm. Due to his root worm research, French realized the most resistant corn internationally was red corn. Therefore, he created red corn at his research facility. The company has since been sold, though French has five patents involving his work with red corn. French has also published about 20 articles based on his entomology (study of insects) and mammalogy (study of mammals) of southwest Minnesota. Research, for French, has never been challenging, since he finds it “fun and exciting” to be a part of agricultural research which influences decisions made in the ag industry.

French, an entomologist, raises insects, including corn root worm, which he grows for agricultural research, allowing corporations to create the best variety which will be resistant to the various insects which affect fields and crops.

French not only works with companies in the United States, but has colleagues all over the country. He travels internationally to conferences, but is also hired by companies or governments to solve insect problems they haven’t seen before. For instance, he was sent to Yugoslavia to understand why they were suddenly having Western Root Worm in their fields. While on the airplane from Chicago, he noticed a root worm had found its way onto the airplane. He didn’t think much of it until they got to Yugoslavia. When the plane doors opened, the root worms escaped and found shelter in a field near the Yugoslavian airport. This is when French realized the insects traveled internationally through the transportation systems.

He has also been instrumental in creating research opportunities at SMSU for students to have hands-on experiences. French and his students conduct research and collect data for local companies to give them “non-biased information so they can make their decisions and sell the best products to their customers.” Due to these business ventures, agriculture students have an opportunity to do cutting-edge research, assist local businesses, and earn money for the department so they can earn scholarships or attend conferences. Oftentimes, French will persuade students to present at these conferences. Other universities are impressed by the talent and knowledge SMSU undergraduates present.

French’s relationship with the agricultural industry give him insight to the challenges facing farmers, including product costs or legislation. French would prefer seeing smaller farming operations.  “I would like to see more people owing and working their own land,” he said.

French and the SMSU School of Agriculture prepare students for the world beyond the classroom, and most have jobs before they graduate. French is proud of this success rate and the education and reputation SMSU ag students have out in the working world.

French enjoys his time with students. Thanks to SMSU’s “closeness and small community feeling” he is able to teach every student in the department. Since his door is always open and he welcomes students at any time, he usually has a student or two in his office.

French and his wife, Joanne, have worked hard to provide unique opportunities to the agricultural industry and have earned several awards including the Minnesota Farm Family of the Year in Redwood County.

French believes his “persistence in doing things right and providing good data” is his strongest contribution to SMSU. He utilizes his research to prove that what he thought would work could be successful in the ag industry. He believes his own persistence pushes students to work harder and to take opportunities when presented.

French plans to retire in spring semester 2019 and looks forward to more time with his family, especially his triplet grandsons who are 3. Besides spending time with family, he would also love to continue to travel and go “birding” with his wife. They have often traveled internationally and would still like to visit India and China.

Although French will be retiring, he knows SMSU will continue to provide unique opportunities to agricultural students who will use their hands-on experiences to benefit the agricultural industry and continue to impact seed varieties in the future, thus carrying on his legacy.

The Frenches, who own and operate French Agricultural Research Inc., have two daughters, Sarah and Michelle.