High school competition helps kids see ag in a new light

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

Minnesota Envirothon, a high school competition organized by the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, challenges the upcoming generation of environmentalists with scenarios often seen in the world of agriculture.

This year’s competition, held earlier this month, asked 25 teams of five to consider a scenario where farmland and state-owned land are separated by a stream running between the two. The challenge: Propose actions the farmer should take to maintain soil and water quality standards.

For competing students, methods of cultivation, uses of fertilizers, weed and pest controls, engineered landscape features to limit runoff and erosion all came under consideration. Teams presented their best approach in an oral presentation following research, and in some cases face-to-face meetings with agricultural and environmental professionals.

Megan Herbst, a soils and nutrient management expert with the Soil Water Conservation District (SWCD) in Stearns County, was a judge for the competition. She said the scenario provoked thoughtful responses, but also showed how students with a passion for the environment could benefit from more direct contact with agriculture.

The winner of this year’s competition, Hopkins High School, knew their inexperience with agriculture, coming from a suburban Twin Cities community, was a limitation, said team adviser John Sammler, who teaches AP Environmental Sciences at the school. To overcome it, they met with an educator at the University of Minnesota Extension Service to learn more about the latest research findings on nutrient use.

“I think the students got it,” he said. “The issue is far more complex and there is far more going on. After that visit, my students had a much larger appreciation for that piece.”

Sammler’s team goes on to compete in the national Envirothon, which will be held in late July at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md. The Hopkins team will be introduced to the complexities of conservation agriculture in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Overall, the competition was an eye-opener for the students who were unfamiliar with the great attention farmers put on water quality and soil health, according to Judy Johnston, who works at Stevens County SWCD.

“These students get exposed to it, and I don’t hear negativity. They are excited to learn about this and they want to do the right thing,” Johnston said.

As part of its goal to share information with future generations about Minnesota farmers commitment to conservation, Minnesota Corn Growers Association is a sponsor of Minnesota Envirothon. Find out more about it here.

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