FFA students’ hard work comes to fruition this year
The Graham High School FFA program has had a tremendous 2017-18 year with multiple accolades from major shows in San Angelo, San Antonio and Houston and reaching state in multiple programs and nationals in FFA Range Judging.
GHS FFA teacher Jacob Lange started working in Graham four years ago and this year had his first students that had gone four years through the program. What was most important, Lange said, was that the students seem to cherish the time they spent in the program. Lange said he could never have imagined a better year for GHS.
“I knew there was talent coming in this, but I never would have dreamed that we had two teams in the state contest in December, had three teams at the state contest this spring and going to nationals,” he said.
The Ag Mechanics team for Graham High School consisted of five members: Dylan Allred, Tyler King, Cody Henderson, Kody Keeter and Riley Wyatt. They designed and built a gate for the new GISD Ag Project Center and earned first in the gate division at the competition in San Angelo, third in Houston and fourth in San Antonio.
In recent years, Graham ISD hasn’t had a whole lot of experience in Agriculture Mechanics, but with teacher Sean McGuire joining the GISD staff this year as an Ag Mechanics teacher there has been more of a focus on the program, Henderson said.
“This year he kind of pushed us into it harder than what we were, so he came up with the idea that we needed a gate at the (Ag) project center, Henderson said. “So at the beginning of the year we started drawing it up and just drafting, deciding what we were going to do … We just proceeded out with the process of getting it built.”
Henderson said the team had to research online for ideas for structural appearance and stability and mixed together a bunch of ideas the group of five saw online. The group also took ideas not only from online, but from industry professionals.
“We even went out into the field with companies that do this for a living as their profession and they gave us some knowledge and some tips,” Keeter said.
The gate, when finished, was 35 feet long and 8-and-a-half feet tall and was entered into the Young County Junior Livestock show where the group won Grand Champion in Ag Mechanics. During each competition, the judges ask a variety of questions to each student.
“When we go show they ask us the ins and outs of every bit, from what welder we used, what everything stands for on the welder, the powder coat that we used, how powder coat is done, the finish of it,” Keeter said. “They ask us about a book that we made over it and the book has any receipts from anything we have ever bought, everything we have done, pictures of everything we have done as well.”
Most of the time in the competitions the judges are made up industry professionals and a retired ag teacher to judge the presentation or showmanship aspect. The point of the competition and the book is to not only test what the students have done, but what they know, Henderson said.
“The point of the book is if somebody wants a gate built, they can look at it from start to finish, see everything they need to purchase and step-by-step how to build the gate,” he said.
Some of the competitions require arriving early and waiting in line for up to 13 hours to unload the project. Henderson said the waiting allowed time for students to build relationships.
“You get a certain bond when you sit in a truck, still, for 13 hours straight,” he said. “The showing aspect was fun but the being at the hotels, the running around the truck, being everywhere else with a group of guys as well as the teachers, is really what made the experience everything.”
Career Development Events (CDEs)
The GHS FFA cotton classing team were state champions. The team consisted of Jade Jordan (named 2nd high individual at state), Cade Anderson (named 4th high individual at state), Seth Hamm (named 5th at state) and Jake Holland (named 8th at state).
CDE contests vary and involve students getting industry experience or practice in areas such as milk, plants, livestock, mechanics and almost anything in the agriculture arena. The FFA program at GHS had teams for Cotton Classing, Milk Quality, Poultry Evaluation and Ag Mechanics.
Students started practicing a month before the contest. They traveled to Lamesa, where there is a cotton classing office, so students could practice identifying cotton. The training both at school and in Lamesa was tough, Jordan said.
“A month every other day we were up here at 6:30 just looking at cotton samples and then Gus talked about going to Lamesa, but he didn’t talk about how it was 12 straight hours of just going through cotton samples and you can’t leave until you get a certain score,” she said.
Lamesa’s facility has ideal conditions for identifying cotton – LED lighting, white floors and black tabletops. Jordan left Graham with a score of high 700s, low 800s out of a top score of a 1,000, which would not get one into the top 20. Yet she ended making 2nd High Individual at the state competition out of roughly 400 other students.
The day following their practice in Lamesa, the students traveled to Lubbock to another cotton classing office to identify cotton the way it used to be done, Lange said.
“Where all of the cotton in the state of Texas is grown is sent to about five different locations in the state and they used to have somebody manually sit there and look at it and grade it and determine its value or its worth,” he said. “Now with technology in the last three to five years it is done by computer, but the students are classifying just like a USDA grader would be doing a few years ago.”
In cotton the students first look for color which can be white, spot (blend of orange and white) or tinged and then they determine the number of leaves and grade it based on that number. There are 50 samples worth 20 points each at the competitions and the students must go through and grade each sample. GHS student Gustavo Ramirez won High Point Individual at state last year.
The GHS FFA Range Team made fifth at state and fifth in nationals. That team consisted of Shanna Gleason, Riley Wyatt, Ramirez and Jake Holland.
There are two parts to the range judging contest. The first is plant identification, in which students stake off 30 different plants on a property out of 87 possible plants that could be staked. The students are required to know characteristics, appearance and all growth stages of each plant.
“Characteristics would be like perennial or annual, does it grow in the warm season, is it native or introduced, invasive or non-invasive or desirable and undesirable,” Wyatt said. “When I say desirable it would have to be desirable for beef cattle to eat.”
The plants can be cut up and mangled and students must be able to recognize them by only one characteristic.
The second part of the contest uses plots which are usually 10 by 10 feet. Students have to determine what kind of ecological site it is – prairie, savanna, etc. – based on soil and plants.
The students have to project by the end of the growing season how much a plant would weigh and how big a percentage it would take up in that plot. They additionally have to answer questions related to the percentages and determine mock goals and outcomes for making the most of the plot of land provided.
In a week the students had to learn 40 new plants and characteristics for quail on top of cattle for cover and food, for the national competition. The students spent all day, every day studying for the competition at Native American reservations.
“We were third in area, fifth in state and that fifth place qualified us for nationals in Oklahoma City,” Lange said.
“We got fifth place as a team (at nationals) and Texas swept the floor in the range contest, in all of them, really,” Wyatt said.