Natural Resource Conservation Service sponsors FFA rangeland management contests

FFA Chapters from Branson, Kim, Wiley, Rye, Karval, Crowley County, Springfield, Pritchett, Manzanola, Fowler, Hoehne, Lamar, Las Animas, Aguilar and possibly other towns gathered at the Arkansas Valley Fairgrounds in Rocky Ford on Wednesday to compete in the Regional Rangeland Management Contest. The students face two challenges at the meet, the field identification and the indoors plant identification.

The students go to the fields in school buses and are given clipboards with the inventory sheets attached. Each student takes fifty paces from his original position, after he he has arrived at the designated area. At each pace, he determines what he has stepped on: litter (non-living matter such as dead leaves), count (rocks, dirt) or basal (perennial plant) and records it on his inventory. After that, a mathematical formula is applied to determine the possibilities for the area as grazing land. The land studied at the regional contest at Rocky Ford was in an area called Mendenhall Gravel Pit. Needless to say, there were interesting rocks all over the place as well as possible fodder.

The indoors plant identification is an interesting challenge. The students identify actual specimens, which are often pretty dried up by the time they see them. They need to know about the configuration of the stems and leaves in minute detail. When you see the winners from these contests, be aware these students have gone through intense intellectual challenges.

Three students from Rye interviewed in the plant identification room presented an interesting array of reasons to be studying agriculture. Jessie Hastings, a senior, plans on being an agriculture teacher; she plans to attend Colorado State University at Fort Collins. Connor Boss, sitting next to her and also a senior, plans to go into some kind of finance, not sure what (agricultural?) and wants to go to an out-of-state school, like the University of Pennsylvania. Denver University is also a possibility. Next to him sat Riley Pritchard, who doesn’t plan to go to college. “Welding is the part I like best,” he said. He was the second student I encountered who was in the agriculture program because of the welding. The first was Michael Gonzales, a state FFA officer from Rocky Ford, who plans to go to the army first, then pursue a career in welding.

The students from Fowler were more agricultural in background. Austin Marsh is a sophomore at Fowler High School. He hopes to attend Panhandle State after high school. He is from a farm family with acreage in Olney Springs and Boone. He is interested in plants, start to finish. “We irrigate mostly from wells, not the ditch,” he said. Modern irrigation techniques could make the work a lot easier. Gabriel Proctor, also a sophomore at Fowler, comes from a farm family as well and plans to attend Colorado State University at Fort Collins to study agricultural engineering . “Well, some kind of engineering,” he said, as his class was instructed to leave the building. Thus ended the interviews.

Anyone who is worried about the next generation would take heart after interviewing these well-mannered and wholesome-looking rural kids. Thanks to Ben Berlinger of the Natural Resource Conservation Service for the introduction to FFA (that used to be called Future Farmers of America).