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Friday, 25 September 2015 11:25

Orfordville students grow their ag knowledge in the (corn)field

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Parkview High School agriculture teacher and FFA adviser Tjark Sattler checks on corn in the school plot in Orfordville. Students manage about 25 acres of corn or soybeans each year to gain experience in agriculture. Parkview High School agriculture teacher and FFA adviser Tjark Sattler checks on corn in the school plot in Orfordville. Students manage about 25 acres of corn or soybeans each year to gain experience in agriculture. Terry Mayer

JANESVILLE MESSENGER -- Students at Parkview High School are getting firsthand experience about what it’s like to manage and operate field crops.

The school offers the agriculture plot program, in which student volunteers in the FFA and agriculture programs manage a 25-acre field behind the high school. The students are involved with growing and overseeing the crops. The crops alternate between corn and soybeans; this year is corn.

“It’s only one crop per year, because it’s what we can get donated and we can use the same equipment,” said Tjark Sattler, Parkview agriculture instructor and FFA adviser. “We don’t have to worry about finding different planting heads and it just makes it a lot simpler.”

The students work with several local agricultural companies to manage the crop. Landmark Services and FS Cooperatives supply the fertilizer and help students plant the crop. Speich Oil donates the fuel for the program.

“They come in and put in nitrogen and fertilize it for us,” Sattler said. “That will happen in the spring. It grows all summer and in October, they will be involved with harvesting the corn.”

Several local farmers donate their time and equipment to help students harvest the crops in fall.

“Down the line, I want to have a day where the students can come out and learn how to use the equipment and have the farmers right in there with them,” Sattler said. “That will give the students that experience if they were looking at going into farming full time in the future.”

Tom Popp, owner of Popp Inc. in Beloit, said he harvested the soybean crop for the students last year.

“I came in one weekend last year with my combine and harvested their soybeans and hauled them to the elevator in town,” Popp said. “A friend of mine called me and asked me to do it, because other farmers were busy harvesting their own crops.”

After the crops are harvested, they are sold to Farm City in Orfordville.

“We sell them, and they will go all over the state for animal feed,” Sattler said. “The money that we receive from selling (the crops) goes directly back to the students in the ag department and the FFA.”

Greg Baxter, manager at Farm City, said after the company purchases the crops, they are distributed to different locations. The company also works with the Brodhead School District, which offers a similar program, Baxter said.

“We buy the crops. If it’s corn, we usually sell them to an ethanol plant,” Baxter said. “If it’s soybeans, we usually send them to China.”

A school agriculture plot helps students learn more about the industry, Baxter said.

“I think it helps the FFA,” he said. “I think it helps the students gain experience if they’re thinking about going into agriculture.”

As is the case with full-time farming, the PHS crop yield varies from year to year, Sattler said.

Last year, about 80 bushels of soybeans were harvested from the school field.

“Last year wasn’t that good, and this year I won’t know until we get the crop off the field what (the yield) is,” Sattler said.

Popp said the program helps the students learn how to market and sell a crop.

“Not all kids who are involved with FFA live on a farm,” Popp said. “They may live in a small farmette with goats and other animals, but they don’t live on a large farm.

“This gives them an idea of how a grain farm is operated. It gives them the experience of what it takes to put in the work, whether they make or lose money. It gives them an idea of how to sell and market their crops. It gives them real-world experience.”

The field plot also is used for class projects, Sattler said.

“In my classes, I have them go out and do yield checks. In the fall, if I have the right class, I’ve done soil samplings with them,” Sattler said. “They get to try out what they learned in class when we go up there and do the yield checks, when we do the soil samples and when we’re able to find out what the moisture of the seeds (is).

“Once it’s harvested, they learn the other side of it -- where the corn is going, how to watch the market prices and see the fluctuation of the prices. So, they have an understanding of the crop side of it and the economic side of it.”

This is the third year that the Parkview School District has offered the agriculture plot. School Board Vice President Steve Haberman said the district was looking at ways to enhance the high school’s FFA and agriculture program.

“We wanted to bring the program back up to speed to the way it was back in the 1970s,” Haberman said. “Parkview had an excellent agriculture program, but the ag program and FFA had kind of fallen by the wayside over the years. It lost a lot of community support. We were hoping to get a good agriculture instructor, and we did.

“The (plot) program has received community support. We’ve built it up to where we’ve received donations of seeds. ... The (ag) program is back to the way it was in the ’70s, but only a modern version of it.”

Sattler said he is pleased with the number of students who have been involved with the program.

“It’s a relatively new program. We’re still trying to get it up and going, and this year with the construction, we lost part of our field but we’re hoping to have that part of it back, so we have our full 25 acres again ... “ Sattler said. “For the most part, when it started, it was the FFA alumni and now we have the students go out and ask businesses to donate to it and for people to come out and fertilize it. So, it’s grown immensely.”

Haberman said Sattler and the students have done a good job of managing the field and enhancing the program.

“I think the key is the adviser,” Haberman said. “He’s excellent with the students. He’s gotten the community involved.

“There’s a lot more interest in the agriculture program.”

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