South Dakota Agricultural Education and FFA History: Soils contests and farm and agribusiness management CDE

Professor Emeritus, Agricultural Education, SDSU

Editor’s Note: To commemorate the passage of the Smith Hughes Act of 1917, Clark Hanson has written a historical summary of events that occurred in the South Dakota Agricultural Education program. Over a two year time frame a series of articles will share how the South Dakota program originated and developed the past 100 years.

My last article attempted to describe the history of FFA contests/career development events. This article will illustrate content, support and sponsorship for two distinctly different models.

The Land, Range and Homesite Judging Contests are split into four regions as opposed to seven districts for the FFA career development events. The soils related activities consist of the Southeast Region (25 schools), Northeast Region (22 schools), Central Region (27 schools) and West Region (19 schools).

The Land Judging Contest consist of four, open pits in which students can readily climb in and out with nearby placards describing field conditions. Judging consists of: identifying soil properties including topsoil texture, subsoil texture, soil depth, past erosion, degree of stoniness and calculating slope; interpreting soil properties including water permeability, surface water runoff, limiting yield factors and determining land capability class. Based on the observations in the soil pit and field conditions provided, the contestant submits recommendations for land treatments such as vegetative, erosion controls and fertility.

One phase of the Range Judging event involves the identification (ID) of grasses and grasslike plant (short, mid, tall), forbs, shrubs, and tress. The plant ID consists of 122 plants. Twenty plants are selected and the contestants evaluate plant characteristics; perennial, biennial, annual, cool season, warm season, native, introduced, invader, determine if the plant provides food and cover for prairie grouse and food for cattle plus an overall determination if the plant is desirable or undesirable. Phase two, includes determining current Resource Inventory and Present Conditions based on ecological sites, similarity index, beef cattle carrying capacity, habitat inventory and limiting factors for both beef cattle and prairie grouse. The third phase consists of assessing thirteen “needed” management practices.

The Homesite Judging in South Dakota instructional manual was written by Dr. Doug Malo, a staff member of the SDSU Plant Science Department, along with the following members of the USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service; L.E. Howe, S.D. Winter, K.E. Cooley, B.O. Kunze, W.J. Bachman, W.T. Schaefer, K.D. Kempton and D.R. Shurtliff.

The Homesite Contest focuses on decisions involving the suitability of a landscape site for the location of a house or other buildings. Factors determining appropriateness include potential for flooding, drainage and season high water concerns, shrink – swell soil characteristics, potential for soil erosion, potential for deterioration of steel and concrete building materials, determine the degree to which soil needs to be moved, suitability of soil for plant growth and location of bedrock.

The Soils, Homesite and Range Management contests present a unique opportunity for members to participate in one of their first FFA activities. For whatever reason, Soils is a unit of instruction often taught at the freshman and sophomore grade level. Many schools participate in FFA District competition before moving on to the regional activities in which the winners have the opportunity to participate in the national event in Oklahoma. The interesting thing about the soil events is that a large number of students can participate. The events are open to all whom the instructor wishes to enter. The selection process consists of 10 -12 individuals, which serves as a pool from which a team can be drawn. The four top scores from the group compete as the representative of the local FFA Chapter. The scorecards of the participants beyond the 10-12 potential team members have their assessments scored back at school. The key point is they have participated in an educational competitive event.

Every summer, a variety of Range Camps are conducted for 4-H and FFA members. Teachers are also welcome to participate in a sponsored in-service educational activity.

Members of the South Dakota Section of the Society for Range Management coordinate soil evaluation contests. Technical assistance is provided by USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, USDA Forest Service, USDI-Bureau of Land Management, US Fish & Wildlife, SD Game, Fish and Parks, SDSU Extension, area ranchers and range professionals. Financial sponsors for the national education opportunity include: South Dakota Section of SRM, South Dakota Livestock Industry Trust Fund and the South Dakota FFA Foundation with funding from SD Soil Health Coalition.

The first national Farm Business Management Contest was held Fall, 1977. A committee consisting of teacher educators, state FFA leaders and industry representatives hosted the event. The John Deere Foundation was the original sponsor for the Management Career Development Event. PNC Bank joined as a sponsor two years ago. The first South Dakota version of the Farm Business Management Contest was conducted at the 1976 South Dakota FFA Convention. The Lake Preston FFA team were declared winners. Wells Fargo sponsors the South Dakota event. A team travel scholarship is sponsored by Wells Fargo and SDSU FarmHouse Fraternity.

The scope of the Farm Business Management CDE is best defined as described in the information provided on the FFA CDE website: “ …students learn business skills and apply economic principles to agricultural businesses. By competing, participants demonstrate their ability to analyze agricultural business management information, apply economic principles and concepts of business management, evaluate business management decisions and work together cooperatively as a team. This team CDE requires four members to collaborate through decision-making and problem analysis skills to reach a final written or oral report. Additionally, each team participant completes an individual written activity. The four team members’ scores plus the team activity score count toward the total team score. Students competing in this event gain a wide appreciation of farm and agribusiness practices, ranging from business structure to succession planning and from cost concepts to risk management.

The CDE event has recently adopted a name change to reflect a greater inclusion of the agricultural industry. The name is now Farm and Agribusiness Management Career Development Event. The 2019 National Event will include a specialty enterprise along with consideration of a business the farming operation could utilize within the existing farm and be of value to the local community as well.

The South Dakota Agricultural Education profession has had a close relationship with the development of the Farm Business Management CDE. The author of this article was involved and eventually a member of the national committee who developed and coordinated events. Early on, John Deere staff inquired as to the nature and extent of student reference material utilized for the competitive event. The sponsoring committee responded that there was a lack of such material. The rational included the fact that secondary agricultural education curriculum is a relatively small market with respect to selling textbooks. The Deere and Company representatives shared that John Deere was in the publishing business and had been for years. Reference of this was made in a previous article entitled, “Curriculum in the 1970’s.” John Deere had published a secondary school agricultural mechanics text for agriculture students since 1927.

The national sponsoring committee also conducted teacher in-service. The author recalls two such efforts to assist secondary teachers in understanding the objectives of the event and how to incorporate the instruction into their regular curriculum. Over the years, your author fazed out of the sponsoring committee and SDSU Agricultural Education faculty member, Dr. Lon Moeller, who had been involved over the years, assumed an active role resulting in his selection as the Superintendent for the National Farm and Agribusiness CDE.

South Dakota State University has had a second significant involvement with the Farm Business Management CDE and several other CDE’s. For thirty plus years, SDSU Agricultural Education majors have been involved in activities related to a number of CDE’s including the registration and photo sessions for CDE contestants. In addition, students assisted with the scoring and tabulating the results for any number of CDE’s. The SDSU staff was at times criticized for this type of involvement as it limited college student’s opportunities to attend other activities at the National FFA Convention. Staff rational included the fact that students were exposed to and actively involved in behind the scenes activities leading to the general public’s satisfaction with the FFA events. Such involvement made an impact on college students as to the complexity of such events.

A few years ago, Dr. Moeller was asked by a national committee member, “How does the SDSU staff select the students for such involvement at the National FFA Convention?” Dr. Moeller’s response included a questioning facial expression. Again the committee member asked his question with Dr. Moeller response, “It is open to any who want to participate. This is just who they are.” The take away is that the students had demonstrated a high level of professionalism and possessed significant skills.

At the state level, your author conducted summer workshops focusing on farm management. Dr. Moeller has conducted computer in-service activities for teachers. Computers have certainly added to the analytical phase of farm accounting.

The Minnesota Adult Farm Management model is a successful time tested approach to record keeping and farm analysis. The model was incorporated into the development of the Farm and Agribusiness Management CDE. The two go hand in hand. The South Dakota implementation of the Minnesota adult model will be the subject of a future article.

For year’s contests/CDE’s were hand scored and hand tabulated. The possibilities for errors were always present. Dr. Moeller and his Committee have developed a scan sheet which includes the traditional yes or no, true or false, multiple choice “fill in the bubble” but also includes a student’s write in answer, entered by a contest official, and scored by the computer as a correct or incorrect response. The design has reduced the potential for scoring errors. This approach was field tested at the 2018 South Dakota Farm Business Management CTE and implemented at the 2018 national event. Other national CDE’s are considering adoption of this technique.