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FFA: Creating More Than Future Farmers


February 17, 2021

Members of the senior Ag Mechanics Team, Wyatt Dunbar, Austin Swanson, and Christopher Jungers work as a team to resolve their multi-system agricultural problem during a District FFA Competition in Big Sandy last week.

On Tuesday, February 9, with some relaxing of restrictions related to the pandemic, the Chinook Chapter of the FFA finally got to travel. They attended the District Agronomy/ Mechanics Contest in Big Sandy, where they placed seventh and eighth.

Chapter Advisor Karyn Billmayer expressed pride in her members who participated in various contests from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM. Representing Chinook, Shyla Benzing competed in the senior agronomy contests while Austin Swanson, Wyatt Dunbar, and Christopher Jungers comprised the senior Ag. Mechanics team.

"We had a great time at the competition, despite the cold weather. Although I originally had twelve students planning to attend, as the week went on, they ended up not going." Billmayer said.

As described by Billmayer, these contests are important steps on Career and Leadership Development pathways. For example, Agricultural Technology and Mechanical Systems (ATMS) Career Development Events (CDE) like those designed for this competition help students develop technical knowledge and an ability to work with others to address complex agricultural dilemmas.

Typically, ATMS teams consist of three or four students who work to solve a multi-system agricultural problem. As the team works through the scenario, they prepare a report while judges evaluate their performance. Additionally, individuals complete a written exam that covers five agricultural technology and mechanical areas: compact equipment, electricity, environment and natural resources, machinery and equipment and structures.

According to Billmayer, "This year's format was slightly different than usual. Austin, Wyatt, and Christopher were allowed to work together on everything except the written test. They had to MIG weld, wire a three-way switch to two light bulbs, create a sprinkler by soldering copper pipe, identify parts of a round baler, calculate slope by using a leveling rod, and identify a legal land description."

For their efforts, the Ag. Mechanics team placed eighth.

The team score derives from a combination of the three highest individual scores and the scored team activity. The highest scorers in this CDE demonstrate a mastery of systems areas subject matter, effective communication skills, superior problem-solving techniques, an understanding of modern technology, and an ability to work successfully and effectively as individuals and as team members.

This CDE is designed on the premise that students entering the workforce need a strong knowledge base and the ability to comprehend the interaction of complex systems. According to the Montana FFA Organization's website, "Students with these skills and abilities are more competitive in the job market, receive financial rewards, and are selected for advancement."

Similarly, the purpose of the FFA Agronomy CDE is to create interest and to promote understanding in agronomy. Participation exposes students to the many ways that science and technology collaborate to grow the world's major food crops. It also gives students a chance to explore career opportunities available in agronomy and to encourage them to pursue these careers.

To compete in last Tuesday's event, Benzing was required to grade grains as well as to identify seeds, weeds, crops, tools, and insects. She also completed a written agronomic knowledge exam in which she had to identify and analyze plant and soil types, evaluate commodity quality, demonstrate pest management and equipment knowledge, and discuss an agronomic issue important to crop production.

Competitors in agronomy events further demonstrate an understanding of sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship while learning the fundamentals of the many disciplines that holistically come together to successfully produce field crops.

Working as an individual, Benzing finished in seventh place. "A full team consists of four members, so not having all of the scores to add together did hurt us in the rankings," Billmayer explained.

Programs and Office Manager for the Montana FFA Foundation, Katharine Taylor stated: "Agricultural education and what we do at the Foundation is constantly shifting, but [contests and collaborations, such as that with the USDA and NASA recently] remind me that we are building and creating so much more than 'Future Farmers.' We are growing future chemists, teachers, business executives, and maybe even astronauts."

About her competitors, Billmayer concluded, "All the individuals did great, and I am very happy with the learning process that took place."

Billmayer went on to report that eighth grader Madi Gruszie competed online in Junior Division Farm Business Management later in the week. "It is really awesome that she took that challenge on; it's a hard test even for high school students!"


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