Youth showcase agricultural innovations at AgOvation competition

Maya Hayslett
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Crop Science Youth Education

AMES, Iowa — Iowa youth, grades 7 through 12, took part in the first-of-its-kind “AgOvation” competition on Nov. 16, capping off the year-long challenge with a chance to win collegiate scholarship prizes.

First place recipients Levi Steinkamp, Kaydon Erpelding and Zachary Erpelding, of Cherokee and Sac counties, received a $4,000 scholarship; second place winners, Richard Martin and Karson Rose from Linn County, received a $3,000 scholarship; and in third place, Kara Smith of Dallas County, received a $2,000 scholarship.

AgOvation is a research-based competition that challenges youth to explore and develop innovative, science-based solutions to agricultural problems impacting their native communities. Teams of two-to-five youth, led by a community mentor, are tasked with researching and evaluating the needs of their communities, designing a solution to satisfy those needs, and delivering a public presentation that demonstrates their project’s results to a panel of judges. The judges included Debbie Nistler, 4-H Youth Development state program leader; Yamille Perez, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach coordinator for women in science and engineering; and Don McDowell, Iowa Farm Bureau.

The award-winning projects were:

• First place – development and demonstration of an attachment for on-farm snow removal equipment to more efficiently move snow from around the farm.

• Second place — an electronic attachment for swine feed automation.

• Third place — coding an application that can be used to monitor calves’ health during birth.

“Event planners and organizers were very impressed with the performance and effort of our first-year participants,” said Maya Hayslett, ISU Extension and Outreach 4-H Youth Development specialist. “We hope to be able to build upon participant experiences to increase our projects and our participant numbers, and continue to challenge youths from various backgrounds to make a difference in their communities.”

Well-mastered skills in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) will be critical to finding solutions to current challenges facing the United States. Many communities across the Midwest and the broader nation are facing similar societal challenges, experiencing similar environmental and economic conditions such as slowed or declining economic stability, as well as food insecurity, human health issues, and loss of wildlife and natural landscapes. As an ISU Extension and Outreach 4-H Youth Development program, AgOvation was designed to engage youth in their communities, instilling in them the aptitude for civic engagement, while broadly applying skills in STEM, problem solving and public speaking.

The competition was hosted by the Iowa 4-H and Integrated Pest Management programs at the Field Extension Education Laboratory, with sponsorship from Cargill, Channel Seed and Iowa 4-H Foundation. The full-day competition included tours of the Iowa State campus and FEEL, an opportunity to meet with current college students, as well as the competition presentations and award ceremony with John Lawrence, vice president for extension and outreach at Iowa State University.

Registration for next year’s AgOvation program will open Jan. 1. To register, contact the youth program at your county extension office. For more information contact Maya Hayslett,

The first place team, from left, of Kaydon Erpelding, Zachary Erpelding and Levi Steinkamp were presented scholarship awards by John Lawrence.