NDSU Extension - Mercer County

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Why Invest in 4-H and FFA Judging Contest

Livestock Judging, Crops Judging, Agronomy, Hippology, Ag Sales, West River

Submitted by Craig Askim, Extension Agent/Agriculture and Natural Resources

This week I am writing about something different than agricultural education topics. I am writing about the future of agriculture within our state and nation. February 20, 2021 was just a normal day to many of us. However, in western North Dakota, two agricultural youth events were taking place in Beulah and Bowman, the West River and Badlands 4-H and FFA judging contests.

To many of you this does not mean anything. Why? Because many people have little to no idea what these contests are and how important they are to our state.

Both contests held a livestock judging contest. In this contest, 4-H and FFA youth judge livestock, go in front of a judge and give reasons to justify their placings based on factors such as muscle, confirmation, bone structure, size, breed character and marketing factors. This is why prime rib costs more than hamburger at the supermarket and this is one example of the factors these kids must learn to be a top placer in the event.

These youth practice ahead of time just like football or basketball players do to improve their knowledge and speaking skills before they participate in these contests. How many of us fear talking to strangers? This is one of the tasks they are asked to do in this contest.

They need to learn these skills with only 12 minutes per class to make sound placing decisions. Did I mention some of these kids are only eight years old? The youth judge classes of beef, sheep, swine and goats.

The West River Judging Contest also provided contests in agronomy, hippology, and agricultural sales.

In the agronomy (crops) contest, 4-H and FFA youth go to 10 – 13 different stations and identify diseases, insects, farm machinery, soil types, weeds, weed seeds, marketing factors (test weight, protein, germination, falling numbers) and others. Very few farmers get the dollar amount reported on the television each night. This is what these kids are asked to do with only ten minutes at each station.

The ag sales contest is straightforward. The FFA kids research an agricultural product before the contest and develop a marketing demonstration strategy to sell their product to a panel of judges. They also take a written test that tests their leadership skills in the areas of marketing and salesmanship.

Hippology? What is that? It is the judging and knowledge of horses. The purpose of the hippology contest is to provide participants with the opportunity to blend knowledge and skills acquired in horse judging, quiz bowl, demonstrations, public speaking and showing into one activity. Hippology consists of four phases: horse judging, written examination and slide identification, ID stations and team problem solving.

You are probably asking yourself why judging matters. To me, your Mercer County Extension Agent, I am trying to instill that agriculture is important. North Dakota is the leading state in the production of many crops like wheat and barley, and an interesting one that many do not know about is honey. North Dakota produces about 50% of all the wheat grown in the United States. So, with that factor alone comes jobs in equipment sales. To name one, have you ever heard of RDO equipment? How about Cenex Harvest States? How many Cenex outlets/elevators are there in North Dakota? Just a few examples of agricultural jobs in North Dakota that will more than likely always be here. Why? Because we all have to eat every day.

How many kids participate in these contests? Due to COVID-19, the planning committee consisting of high school ag advisors, NDSU Extension staff and volunteers from the community, met in January and thought we may have to cancel this year. However, we created a plan to make it work. We had 336 kids that judged in the West River Judging Contest and another 118 judged in the Badlands Livestock Judging Contest in Bowman that day. While these numbers are down slightly over last year’s numbers, they remain strong and hopefully next year we will be back to the 400- 450 participants that we normally have. This is why these contests are important to North Dakota today and in the future. After all, one in five jobs is tied to the agricultural Industry in this nation.

The best thing about judging events in my eyes is many of these kids that participated don’t live on a farm, don’t own a horse, don’t own livestock, but still have an interest in agriculture. Therefore, I would have to disagree with the myth that agriculture is dead in North Dakota. This is the message I would like to express to the leaders of North Dakota and along with information and data to support this claim.

Thank you to the 75 or so volunteers that serve as judges, general helpers, cooks, 4-H volunteer coaches and FFA advisors that took time out of their day and take time to practice in the mornings and evenings with these kids. While your kids may not have won any awards on February 20, they won by the skills they developed that they will use for the rest of their lives! At the end of the day, that is what it is all about.

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