By entering AgroExpo’s 2019 Crop Management Challenge, FFA students are now in charge.
At least, that’s the idea behind the first-year competition, said Megan Merrill, a Springport agriscience teacher and FFA advisor.
“From our end, what I like about this event is that many of our students are coming from family farms, but those kids aren’t making decisions,” Merrill told Michigan Farm News. “The event is structured where students have to dig into the costs and … management skills. Kids here are having a conversation and really have to engage.”
The Crop Management Challenge is a competition for FFA chapters to enter and expand their members’ agronomy skills. Contestants compete with other chapters to make sound agronomic, marketing and environmental decisions in a demonstration plot of corn.
The goal of the first-year event? To raise student awareness in agronomical career opportunities.
Normally, according to Merrill, “kids aren’t in those big decisions” on the farm.
“They learn to expect a return (from the crop), (and) when it is not a beneficial input,” Merrill said. “I think it’s awesome. It gives my students a very real and hands-on experience with decision-making and agriculture. The idea behind the project is to give students an experience to make decisions.”
Merrill has five students participating in the corn plot challenge — two soon-to-be juniors, one sophomore and two freshmen. Contestants in the challenge are judged on yield (35%), economics (35%) and presentations/responses (30%) to the judges’ questions.
The FFA chapter involved in the competition will be expected to attend the AgroExpo and occupy a tent by their plot area. There, participants will explain their challenge plot decisions and provide a final report based on yield data after the harvest.
First-place winners will receive a plaque, traveling trophy and $1,000; second-place winners will receive a plaque and $500; and third-place winners will receive a plaque and $250.
“I love the concept, and I want to continue this,” Merrill said. “My students can mentor and carry this over to others. The students I chose are the ones who are the tractor drivers on the farms. … They don’t get to be decision-makers.
“This gives them a chance to do that.”
The AgroExpo FFA Crop Management Challenge is sponsored by AgroLiquid and Michigan Corn Growers Association. FFA chapters participating include Mason, Springport, Laker, Sanilac Career Center, Montcalm Career Center, Fowlerville, Perry, Ovid Elsie, Olivet and Coleman.
“This is a great opportunity,” said Robert Sollman, biotechnology instructor at the Sanilac Career Center. “I have six kids working on the project. So far, we are weighing the pros and cons of the timing of the nutrient applications. The students did quite a bit of research.”
Similarly to Merrill, Sollman said he enjoys his students finally making the farming decisions.
“Kids are forced to learn and then defend what they are learning,” he told Michigan Farm News. “They … go deeper into the subject. This project is so awesome at driving kids into the subject matter so they truly understand what goes into a crop.”
“The beauty is we made contact with a local producer,” she said. “He met with our team and gave us a real-life perspective on how he uses the local product while helping us make our management decisions.
“He gave us that real perspective.”