Arkansas 4H Members Know Their Grass
Dr. John Jennings, Professor
Knowing one grass from another and also learning how to manage them are some of the things that Arkansas 4H members had to learn to compete in the 13th annual Mid-America Grassland Evaluation Contest in Springfield, Mo. The contest was held on June 6. Arkansas 4H teams from Cleburne, Fulton, Randolph, and Van Buren Counties competed in a field of 23 teams from Missouri, West Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana. The students have to complete four sections in the contest including Grassland Condition, Wildlife, Soils, and Plant ID.
For the Grassland Condition section, the students must assess current grazing conditions in the field, determine fertilizer and weed control recommendations, calculate how much forage is needed year-round for an example herd, and make recommendations for improvement if needed – all in 25 minutes. For the wildlife section, students must evaluate the field for habitat value for quail and rabbits, make recommendations to improve the habitat, and answer 20 general questions on wildlife management. In the soils section students are given a soil survey map and several soils descriptions. They must locate the site on the map, choose the correct soil description, answer questions about the soil, guess the slope of the field, and determine suitability of 10 forages for that site. In the plant ID section the students must correctly identify 25 pasture plants from a list of 75 possible species. An extra twist is to receive points for a correct plant ID, each plant’s life cycle has to be answered correctly as well.
If that all sounds complicated, well it is and it isn’t. At first glance the material appears overwhelming, but after some study, students and agents find that it covers information most farmers should already be using in their operations. The contest was originally designed to teach proper grassland management skills, but in a competitive format. Many county agents and vo-ag teachers from several states have commented that it is probably the most real-life contest available. The county agents that have been teaching the material to 4H members use much of the information every day when working with farmers. Most of them will readily tell you that learning how to teach the contest material has made them better at their jobs helping farmers because of the practical and applied nature of the information.
Arkansas teams competed very well in the Mid-America Grassland Evaluation Contest with Cleburne County taking second place and Randolph County taking third place. To qualify for the Mid-America Grassland Contest, each team had to place in the top five of the Arkansas Grassland Evaluation Contest held in April. The Mid-America Grassland Evaluation Contest is known for the tough competition and for the difficult field scenarios developed by contest officials.
The Cleburne County team was coached by Cleburne County staff chair, Michelle Mobley. Mobley’s teams have won the Arkansas contest and placed second in the Mid-America contest each of the past two years. Team members were Matthew Hipp, Daniel Hipp, Aaron Wilson, and Rachel Wilson. Aaron Wilson was fourth high individual in the 4H Division.
The Randolph County team was coached by Randolph County staff chair Mike Andrews. Andrews has qualified a team for the Mid-America contest for 12 of the 13 years since the contest began. Team members included Jonathan Courtney, Jesse DeJournett, Jacob Kelly, and Brittany Yancy. Courtney made a perfect score on the Grassland Evaluation section, the first prefect score on that section by an Arkansas student in either the Arkansas or Mid-America contest.
The Fulton County team was coached by county agriculture agent Brad Runsick. Brad trained a qualifying team in Searcy County last year and an all new team this year after moving to Fulton County. Team members included Perri Huett, Leah Wasson, and Hunter Saunders.
The Van Buren County team was coached by Van Buren County staff chair Danny Griffin. Griffin has been coaching grassland teams for ten years. Team members included Bryce Sawyer, Clay Evans, and Brooklyn Smith.