May 21, 2024

FFA chapters win water testing challenge

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — The Illinois Corn Growers Association and the Illinois Soybean Association announced the winners of the Water Testing Initiative Challenge.

ICGA and ISA partnered in early 2022 on this hands-on learning opportunity for FFA chapters in Illinois.

This new educational program challenged students to sample water from different areas on the farms and then analyze that data with a report that included improvement suggestions and management changes with explanations on why it should change.

“We were excited with the participation and the opportunity to teach the next generation of agriculturalists a little bit about the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy,” said Megan Dwyer, ICGA director of conservation and nutrient stewardship.

“Learning how to identify possible problems and think through solutions is something they will use in their future endeavors. Soil health and environmental stewardship are crucial to the future of production agriculture.”

“This collaboration with Illinois Corn has allowed us to bring principles of conservation agronomy into classrooms around the state,” added Jennifer Jones, ISA research agronomist.

“We look forward to watching this effort continue to build in Illinois, while showing students that corn and soybean farmers are united in our efforts to implement nutrient loss reduction strategies across Illinois acres.”

Top Chapters

First place — Highland FFA: “The Water Testing Initiative provided a great opportunity for much needed discussions to take place within my classroom. This activity provided a perfect chance to talk with students and inform them about nutrient loss reduction strategies, the 4 R’s, as well as eutrophication leading to potential hypoxia zones,” said Claire Geiger, Highland FFA adviser.

“Participating led to exposing students to various career pathways, whether they had production backgrounds or not.”

Second place — Rockridge FFA: “We are so grateful for opportunities such as this initiative that get agriculture students involved in real agriculture issues. This initiative has helped students to start building their skillset and growing their minds, so that hopefully one day, they can be involved in providing real solutions, said Kirsten Kapraun, Rockridge Ag teacher and FFA adviser.

“Not only did our (Biological Science Applications of Ag) students learn how to apply the scientific method to a real-world scenario, they had the opportunity to experience the impacts of nutrient loss on water quality, how conservation practices in agriculture impact nutrient loss and how all of that together impacts them as agriculturalists and consumers.

“Overall, we are excited to use their findings and apply some of the best management practices to our own FFA test plot.”

“This was a great experience for my class. This project not only had an impact on our learning, but also taught us about the impact nitrogen loss has on agriculture. You learn new things every day in ag,” added Taylor Dieterich, a BSAA student.

Third place — Somonauk Leland Sandwich FFA: For this chapter a student, Cody Peterson, did the majority of work because of his interest in this topic. He is taking the lead with his teacher to develop programming to use in their ag program, school district and community to teach about water pollution and watersheds with a focus on showcasing non-point source pollution such as fertilizer.

They plan to use the award money to purchase an Enviroscape model to utilize for these efforts. Peterson plans to follow up with local farmers who were involved in the project.

“One thing we discovered through this project was that high school students have very little awareness of water quality, water availability, or how very connected we all are by our water resources,” said Jenny Wold, Somonauk teacher. “We also discovered many farmers in our area utilize at least one conservation practice at their farm.”

Fourth place — Southeastern FFA: The entire chapter agreed, “This project taught us the importance of teamwork, as well as the importance of opening your mind to new areas of information that we may have not known much about. The impact our local farmers have on our world’s ecosystem is a large one, improving our management practices and nitrogen reducing practices is absolutely vital to keeping our water clean.”

This chapter also had the opportunity to expand their knowledge of other management practices after the experiment was done. They were able to meet with companies like Pivot Bio to investigate other practices that are becoming more known.