By Sean Battles
The Fantasy Farming Challenge, sponsored by the Monsanto Learning Center in Monmouth, IL, introduced students to real-life crop production principles. Troy Coziahr, Learning Center Manager and former ag teacher, developed the contest in which students made all of the tough decisions on their plots – from choosing which product to plant, to deciding whether to use inputs like insecticide or fungicide, to determining the width of the rows. Just like a farmer does.
“It was an opportunity for students to experience some of the real-world decisions that must be made every year, and to help them understand some of the risks and rewards that go hand-in-hand with those decisions,” says Coziahr. “In addition, we wanted students to see that getting the highest yield doesn’t necessarily mean making the most profit.”
In the first year of the contest, eight northwestern Illinois FFA chapters participated, with Rockridge winning the profitability award and United producing the highest yield. Each chapter took home checks for $1,000 and iPad® devices, funded by Monsanto and Illinois DEKALB® and Asgrow® brand sales teams. Jimmy Casteel, Monmouth Learning Center Agronomist, presented the winning check to United. Casteel says he hopes to double the number of chapters that participate next year.
“The main thing that probably stuck with many of the students was the realization of the high costs and risks associated with crop production,” says Coziahr. “When you start talking about the costs associated with their small plot and extrapolate that out to a 1,000 – 2,000 acre farm, you can see the looks on their faces as they begin to grasp the risk involved.”
The idea for an FFA yield contest originated with agronomist Mark Reiman at the Gothenburg Learning Center. “This type of contest fills a need that I saw in our visiting FFA groups,” says Reiman. “Students listen and want to learn, but I think it is hard to grasp some of the concepts they see in crop production without actually finding a way for them to participate in it. We also have many FFA students today who are not raised on farms, and this is a way to help them understand crop production better than a textbook can.”
While the Monmouth and Gothenburg contests are run a little differently, the goal is the same – provide an excellent learning experience for students. “We intentionally positioned the plots on the farm in a high-stress location, and then Mother Nature delivered a few punches of her own. It was fun to see the different strategies the students employed,” says Coziahr. “You could really tell which students were going for the highest profit by cutting input costs, which ones were going for high yield, and which students were trying to strike a balance. Seeing that kind of thing play out over the season was fun.”
Reiman says, “Our plots at Gothenburg are irrigated, which changes the dynamics a little, because it influences their agronomic decisions.” Monsanto planted and harvested the plots at both locations.