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Competition gives high school students insights into challenges facing agronomists

When farmers try to calculate the outcome of another growing season, they must add a host of unknowns into the equation - from weather conditions to pest infestations. As dozens of high school students recently discovered, agronomists play a critical role in lowering those risks.

As part of an annual event, Purdue University recently hosted crop state and regional scouting competitions at its Crop Diagnostic Training and Research Center (DTC).

The hands-on crop scouting event pitted teams of students against each other as they moved from station to station around the farm, taking on various challenges like identifying signs of disease in various plants. A Purdue Extension agronomy specialist and/or graduate students manned each station, answering questions and guiding the exercises.

“The students have to work together, helping each other identify disease, insect damage or a nutrient deficiency with a plant,” said Braden Carpenter, assistant director of the DTC at Purdue. “Together, they try to solve those problems.”

“The different scenarios are designed to reflect the common issues that farmers in this part of the world would run into in their fields,” he said. “We mimic some random issues they may experience.”

In other stations, students may encounter challenges experienced by farmers because of faulty practices, such as forgetting to fully clean out a spray boom, which is essential farm equipment used for crop management. In that situation, there could be residual damage on crops at the end of the field, Carpenter said.

Students from 10 Indiana high schools competed at the state level, with South Central High School FFA of Union Mills earning first place and South Newton FFA placing second. These teams went on to compete in the regional competition against the top two teams from both Nebraska and Iowa.

In the regional round, which was also hosted at the Purdue DTC, Clayton County in Iowa took first place honors. Kuhlmann Seed in Iowa and Kornhusker Kids in Nebraska, rounded out the top three spots, respectively.

State competition sponsors included Ceres Solutions, DuPont Pioneer, Bayer’s Crop Science Division, Indiana Soybean Alliance, Indiana Corn Marketing Council, Dow AgroSciences, Beck’s Hybrids and Purdue Extension. Sponsors for the regional competition included Purdue Extension, Indiana Soybean Alliance and the Indiana Corn Marketing Council.

Based on feedback, Carpenter said, the event was successful in helping students explore various career possibilities in the field of agronomy. In their feedback to the event, many students replied that it was helpful to talk to specialists afterwards to learn what they got right and wrong.

“The students were able to pick the specialists’ brains,” Carpenter said. “They were able to see and experience the components of integrated pest management that ultimately become the building blocks needed as a well-rounded agronomist. The experience enlightened them to different professions; you can never start thinking about it too early.”

High school students from Indiana, Nebraska and Iowa recently learned about plant disease and other challenges farmers face during a crop scouting competition at Purdue University.  High school students from Indiana, Nebraska and Iowa recently learned about plant disease and other challenges farmers face during a crop scouting competition at Purdue University.

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