Twenty-three acres of soybeans rub against a baseball field in northwest Missouri. Packed with 14 varieties under a late-June sun, September harvest is on track for strong bushel counts, yet the data numbers are irrelevant. The true yield is immeasurable, wrapped in a bounty of lifetime learning for countless members of the blue-jacket army.
The North Shelby Ag Leader plot (NSHS) is emblematic of the Future Farmers of America (FFA) spirit, a boots-on-the-ground experience centered squarely on education, community and legacy. With 35-plus years of corn and soybeans planted on 23 acres, the returns are borne out in the high number of NSHS students seeking jobs in the agriculture industry. Tied directly to those successes are the efforts of multiple seed companies in fostering FFA opportunities.
Jenny Bradley, adult agriculture education instructor, describes the 23 acres (owned by NSHS) as a fantastic “learning lab” for the NSHS ag education program. Depending on weather and timing, students plant, scout, make yield estimates and actively participate in harvest. “They were as excited to plant beans in May as to go on a Vegas vacation. Some kids drive a tractor for the first time and they love it,” she describes.
In 2018, NSHS students planted 14 soybean varieties. (Typically, 10 to 18 varieties of corn or soybeans are planted on a rotational basis.) Seed companies usually submit two varieties and pay $100 total for entry. The fees go toward scholarship funds to assist freshmen with FFA projects. After harvest, money made through crop sales is pumped back into FFA activities.
Bradley says community involvement is vital: “One of the biggest values of these test-plots is to see community and volunteers helping at every level. We rely strictly on our farmers and seed salesman to make this work for our kids.”
Equipment use is donated by local producers, and a local company applies fertilizer and herbicide. “Everyone is so focused on helping our kids and they want the best for our kids, and I’ve never had problem getting anyone to help loan us a planter, harvest a crop, or come in and speak.”
The long-running plots at NSHS are a springboard to FFA students, evidenced by a high percentage of returnees to agriculture, according to Bradley. “Production ag, seed sales, chemical sales, or just some level of the ag industry. We’re so grateful to see this over and over.”
Harold Eckler, NSHS FFA advisor and 35-year veteran, excitedly rattles off a long list of former students currently involved in agriculture: “Big company agronomists, equipment dealers, farm loan officers and more, these kids return to agriculture and become pillars of the community.”
“I believe these kids will turn into solid people no matter what, but this definitely is an opportunity to hone leadership skills,” Eckler continues. “We get to see the fruits of our labor in their adult lives and we can brag on these kids and it’s so fun.”