Joe Fraley teaches students about using technology to improve agriculture

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image: Joe Fraley
Joe Fraley

Joe Fraley (94), farm manager at Morehead State’s Derrickson Agricultural Complex, starts his day early. Arriving at the farm between 6 and 6:30 a.m., he checks on the livestock, does paperwork and just takes some time in the morning to collect his thoughts before students arrive and the day’s activities begin. Fraley said his daily routine is anything but ordinary.  

“It’s never the same day twice, it’s never dull,” he said. “We have lots of events here at the farm. Today I’m working on the breeding schedule, tomorrow we’ll be setting up pens for a goat show this weekend. It’s always something different. I enjoy the work. It’s hard work, but I love what I do and feel blessed to do it every day.”  

Farming is in Fraley’s blood. His grandparents were farmers, his father operated a grain and dairy farm in Ohio, and his family operated a 2,100-acre farm and equine training facility in Rowan County when he was growing up. Now, Fraley is teaching future generations of farmers at the University’s 350-acre farm, which serves as a living laboratory for agricultural science students.  

Fraley said decided he wanted to work in agriculture at the age of 10 when his father started teaching him about farming and how to use farm machinery and equipment. When it was time for college, Fraley chose MSU because he likes the area and it allowed him to live at home while he attended college to help with his family’s horse training operation. Fraley earned his bachelor’s degree in animal science with an emphasis in equine science, and later earned a master’s degree in vocational education. He said one of the things that impressed him about MSU was the experiential learning opportunities offered at the farm.  

“The farm lent itself to a very hands-on approach, and it still does to this day. Professors lecture in the classroom, then bring students to the farm where they can apply what they’ve learned,” Fraley said, adding the encouragement he received from his advisor, Dr. Judy Willard, helped him reach his potential. 

“Dr. Willard never let me quit on myself, even if the assignment was really hard, she never let me give up.” 

Fraley started his career at MSU as a student work study, helping with the equine breeding program. After he graduated in 1994, he was immediately hired by the University as an equine technician. Four years later, he was promoted to assistant farm manager, and after the retirement of his predecessor and mentor, the late Eddie Lundergan (79), he took over as farm manager in 2006. In 2008, Fraley became and instructor and continues to teach classes in agricultural mechanics, farm machinery and horsemanship.  

One of the things Fraley said the program instills in students is that agriculture is a 24-hour-a-day business. 

“When we’re calving, we check on the animals every four hours. We all work on holidays and we have a rotating weekend schedule, including the students. If we’re baling hay, we’ll stay in the evening until the job is done. We try to make the students understand this is not a typical, nine-to-five job,” he said.  

According to Fraley, farmers make up only two percent of the population but are responsible for feeding the entire world. This, he said, gives agricultural careers a level of job security.  

“People need to eat, and they aren’t going to stop,” Fraley said. “By 2050, the global population is expected to reach nine billion people, and farmers are going to have to increase production by 70 percent to meet demand. That’s only 30 years from now.” 

Fraley said technology plays an ever-increasing role in agriculture, and farmers of the future will depend on technology to meet global food needs. He said students are being taught precision farming methods at the farm, including using GPS-controlled planters that use data collected about soil, moisture and sunlight to plant seeds as efficiently as possible. Students are also using DNA profiles of the farm’s Black Angus cattle to optimize breeding by pairing bulls and heifers that have compatible gene sequences. In addition, ultrasound technology is used to determine the optimal time to harvest an animal. Fraley said these and other technological advances will be crucial to future farmers. 

“People need to understand that our students will be the future of agriculture,” Fraley said. “Technology is helping to meet demands, but it’s vital to protect our land and our waterways, too. There has to be a happy balance between agricultural needs and the rest of society.” 

– Joe Fraley

In addition, Fraley said it’s important for even young children to start learning the basics of agriculture. “I know when I was in school, I didn’t receive any agricultural curriculum until high school,” he said. “We need to educate young people more about agriculture. They need to know that a tomato comes from a tomato plant; that bacon comes from a pig. It’s not just at the grocery store; there’s a process that got it to the grocery store.”  

Fraley resides at the farm with his wife, Sharon (Litton) Fraley (99), who is the director of finance for the Division of University Advancement. The two met in a horse-riding class while they were students, and their paths crossed again when Sharon boarded her horse at Fraley’s family’s farm. They started dating in 1993 and were married March 15, 1997.  

“We don’t have any children of our own, but we feel like we have helped raise plenty here at the farm. This is truly one of our favorite parts to life is seeing the students grow and learn,” he said.  

For more information about programs in the Department of Agricultural Sciences, visit www.moreheadstate.edu/agriculture, email agsi@moreheadstate.edu or call 606-783-2662.