This fall, Brandon Wagner’s ag education students have harvested some profitable lessons with their hands-on project.

Wagner serves as the FFA advisor at Yankton High School. As part of the program, the chapter has operated a test plot as both a fundraiser and learning experience.

The idea took root thanks to the availability of a nearby plot of land at 21st and Summit, Wagner said.

“This was our third year of operating the test plot. We were exploring possible locations of a plot and we reached out to Kolberg-Pioneer about the land,” he said.

“They have been the biggest reason this project has been so successful. The location of the plot is walking distance from our classroom and we can visit the plot weekly or even more frequently, if desired.”

The test plot allows the students to experiment with different soil depths and farming practices, Wagner said.

“We have been practicing no-till for the previous two years as a conservation practice, as well as strip tillage,” he said. “We take two-acre grid soil samples every fall to monitor fertility and track organic matter levels. We have also incorporated cover crops as frequently as possible to increase soil health and minimize nutrient loss.”

All students who enroll in an ag education class at YHS will take a role in the test plot, Wagner said. The classes had some money to start the project three years ago, but the vast majority of the input costs are donated.

The field is located directly west of Kolberg-Pioneer on the north side of 21st Street in Yankton. Wagner and the students have rotated corn and soybeans the previous three years and plan to continue that for the time being. This year, the test plot produced 18 acres of corn.

Wagner adjusted the project to meet safety needs during the pandemic.

“With COVID-19, I planted the plot this spring on May 15. Usually, this is done with the class of ag students. However, school contact was not an option (because of the pandemic),” he said.

“We used federal grant money to purchase and upgrade an older six-row planter as a class project. I usually monitor the plot over the summer months and, with the help of Growmark FS, we assist in soil fertility and weed control.”

The recent harvest produced the rewards for the work undertaken over several months.

“Mark’s Machinery came this fall with a combine, tractor and grain cart to harvest, and we averaged 176 bushels per acre,” he said. “Our yield was lower than our corn yield in 2018. However, lack of moisture late season, coupled with a later planting date, are a few possible explanations.”

The spring conditions were wet and cool, which prevented the class from getting into the field in April and early May, Wagner said.

“Since we no-till a part of the field, we have to wait slightly longer for the soil temperature to increase and dry for optimal conditions,” he said. “We had a lot of potential through July, and then our season ended with significant lack of moisture, which really put our hybrids to the test. We were able to collect yield data on 18 different hybrids and compare yield, moisture and test weight.”

The ag education classes contain a very diverse group of students, Wagner said. Some of them come from a background where they are very familiar with agriculture, while others don’t come into the class and project with the same knowledge.

“The learning that takes place is everything from the most basic aspects of production to more in-depth facets of fertility, weed control and marketing,” he said.

The chapter sells the crop every year, with the proceeds going toward FFA registration fees, travel/lodging and community service projects. The students also use the money for desired equipment upgrades to add for the test plot.

The project has succeeded because of the support from area agribusinesses and individuals, Wagner said. Kolberg-Pioneer has donated the land rent back payment back to the FFA program for all three years. Mark’s Machinery and C&B Operations have both provided equipment at no cost. Growmark FS applies chemical and fertilizer at no cost and aids in grain delivery as well as agronomist advice.

In addition, Tabor Lumber Co-Op has donated fertilizer. Pioneer, Channel and Dekalb/Asgrow have donated seed the past three years.

Also, South Dakota State University has provided support and has served as a resource for ideas and guidance. Chris Nelson has strip-tilled half the plot for no cost. Muller Industries allows access to the plot with equipment and students. The Yankton County Conservation District has donated the drilling of cover crops.

“The list of supporters is a very long one and we are extremely grateful,” Wagner said.

The FFA advisor was pleased with the outcome of the ongoing project.

“We hope to continue our test plot as long as Kolberg-Pioneer allows us to use the land,” he said. “It has served as our FFA program’s primary fundraiser and allows our students a rare opportunity.”

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