Contest celebrates Ag Innovation for those in high school

Groton student suggests better way of nutrient sampling

Connie Sieh Groop
Special to the Farm Forum

Seven words challenged a young woman from Groton to improve soil testing. By applying what she learned through her FFA experiences and ag classes, she developed Erdmann Precision Field Analysis as a winning project in the Agriculture Innovation category for the Big IDEA Competition for high school students in December.

In her presentation on her proposed nutrient sampling business, Tessa Erdmann said, “The most dangerous seven words in the English language are, ‘we have always done it this way.’ For the past 50 years, farmers have been soil sampling and getting their results in the same way. Our new methodology will revolutionize ag production for those highly technical progressive operators. It is on the leading edge of technology. It is for the producers interested in profit-centered analysis applied to production agriculture and especially for those simply interested in composite sampling prior to planting corn as your coop salesman recommends.”

She explained the method she would use. “What we do at Erdman Precision Field Analysis is collect four points of data in a 1-meter circle and use that as a benchmark against the rest of the field and across other fields. We provide the farmer with the data. We don’t always need to do things in the same way every time. There may be a better way.”

She explained how dangerous that thinking can be. “Farmers need to embrace innovation, so they can save money.”

As she grew up, Tessa often helped her dad Darrin Erdmann with planting. During those years, she learned about issues in agriculture. She’s active in FFA and 4-H besides taking ag classes. “I learned the basics of a business by setting up my Supervised Ag Experience (SAE) project where I track the finances of my Boer meat goat business.”

When she was a freshman, Tessa learned of the competition and began planning ways to provide a better way of soil sampling. By talking with her dad and other farmers, she developed this project as part of her independent study as a senior for the Ag Business class at Groton High School.

It was a virtual event so this screenshot was recorded of Tessa Erdmann as she made her presentation. 

“Basically, the overall goal is to dial in the right amount of nitrogen for the field, not overdoing or not adding enough. Nitrogen is expensive and so farmers want to apply the right amount. I picked a couple of spots in a field as soon as we planted the crop and flagged the areas so I can go back each year. I took one test at that stage, another at V4 or when the plant had four leaves. I did tissue sampling to see if there was a good nitrogen level or if the plant needed more fertility in season before harvest.”

As the corn was harvested, she’d take all the ears of corn in 1/1000 of an acre, count the kernels, weigh the kernels and figure out the bushels per acre. “My figures show how much nitrogen was available and these tests determine how much nitrogen is used and how much will need to be added in the future.”

The emphasis of the project developed. “My first time, I used a tool with an iPad to track what the planter was doing. It was very in depth and complicated. My revisions focused more on the soil side of it. From my work, I know the economics of farming play into the amount they want to spend on testing.”

From her research, she said, “I would say in our areas, it could help farmers save money.”

Adam Franken is the ag teacher at Groton High School. He said Tessa is very committed to agriculture. She is running for a state FFA office and is up for the Star Farmer award at the South Dakota FFA Convention held in Rapid City in April.

“We work with the seniors on their ideas for the Big IDEA competition in our Ag Business class and it really fits well with the curriculum. South Dakota is a very business friendly state with lots of entrepreneurs. Students work on business plans or marketing plans for so they can start their own business, whether it will be big or small. The competition pushes them to learn new skills.”

In the contest, they define Agriculture Innovation as an agriculture business that incorporates innovation, technology and/or leadership into agriculture or agriculture education. The competition encourages young people to create opportunities such as the one created by Tessa.

Tessa Erdmann of Groton, Kelly Weaver with the Big IDEA contest and Chris Maxwell of the SD Ag Foundation.

“We encourage entrepreneurs through our Supervised Ag Experiences which start when students are freshmen. We talk about ideas for four years so by the time they are seniors, they develop their Big Ideas and work on writing the business plan and marketing it.”

Adam said, “Tessa thought of her project when she was a freshman. It was an interesting idea. She talked to her dad and other farmers to get their opinions. It’s different from soil sampling. She did a lot of research to get quality data and interpreted it. It definitely could be beneficial if she develops it in the future.”

Research on the Internet provides information but talking to those involved in farming is key to knowing what works. Adam recognizes personal connections are important. “I encourage students to talk to their parents and their neighbors. Students figure out what the need would be, how to fill that need, and figure out a workable solution. Guiding them through the process is rewarding.”

Like many events, this year’s competition was virtual and hosted by Northern State University in Aberdeen. Kelly Weaver is in charge of the Big IDEA competition.

In December, 339 students from 29 schools entered the 2020 BIG Idea competition. The category of Agriculture Innovation had 63 entries with Tessa chosen as the winner, receiving the $500 cash prize from the South Dakota Agriculture Foundation sponsors and a $500 scholarship to Northern State University.

“We used technology to bring the students, teachers, mentors and judges together. The staff at Northern did an outstanding job of making it all work.”

Kelly believes this format definitely required students to be more prepared. Students created their own videos and submitted them, which was an added learning experience.

Kelly said they will continue to encourage participation in the future with connections with the FFA Convention and the SD Ag Foundation. In a state like South Dakota, “It is no surprise that there were interesting ag projects. We look forward to returning to a live event in December of 2021.”

Tessa said, “I was shocked when I was told I won the Ag Innovations division. There were a lot of great projects.”

Tessa plans to nurture her innovative ideas as she attends South Dakota State University, majoring in Ag Economics and Ag Business. “It’s a possibility that I’d develop the idea further after I graduate from high school. It would be really cool to turn it into a business.”

Find more information on the Big IDEA competition on Facebook @BIGIdeaSD

Tessa Erdmann developed Erdmann Precision Field Analysis as a winning project in the Agriculture Innovation category for the Big IDEA Competition for high school students.