WASHINGTON — While experienced farmers are out working their fields so are future farmers. Iowa Secretary of State Mike Naig visited the land lab taken care of by the Washington FFA members on Tuesday to see how they are looking to grow the industry.
Sophie Bell, a senior at Washington High School (WHS) and the president of the National FFA Organization (FFA) chapter said the group of 15 rents about 60 acres of land in Washington. What is referred to as the land lab is located off 18th Street in Washington, near the soccer fields.
She said each member of FFA has a designated job and way to help with the farming. Leah Evans, a fellow senior and the sentinel for FFA, said although they are only in school nine months of the year, members can be found in the field on weekends and school days year-round.
Evans said members bring in their own equipment to help but have also partnered with Sinclair Tractor in Washington to use the combine and chemical is donated by local fertilizer supplier Liqui-Grow. Crop scouting, however, is the groups responsibility.
Bell said the land is part of the group’s supervised agricultural experience (SAE) project which means they have to take records to see how the year came out and if they would turn a profit if they were in business and not just doing this for class. Trent Steinhart, Agricultural Education Teacher at WHS, said the students always include the donated expenses in the reports to help give the students an understanding of the true costs of farming.
Bell said a recent addition to the group is more land near the Water’s Edge subdivision in town. The group pays the rent, farms the land, and gets donations for seed and chemical, she said, so at the end of the year the total profits can be donated to Growing Hope Globally, a nonprofit in Wester Spring, Ill. According to its website, farmers sell their product and donate the monetary donations to the organization which in turns uses the money to fund farming in Third World countries.
“We choose a project from whatever money we got and it goes toward that,” she said, explaining they have not chosen a project yet this year.
The members work together to make all the decisions, from deciding what project to sponsor to when to plant in their own fields. Evans said it can be a sticky situation when not everyone agrees. Naig said although it may be tricky, learning to work with others is an important life lesson.
Steinhart said the split between students who have experience working on the farm is about 60/40 with most students having ag experience from home. Naig said he felt that was a positive thing because people of different backgrounds bring different ideas to the table and strengthen the industry.
“I think that’s encouraging that we have as many non-ag folks in our programs as we do,” he said. “We want our farm kids to stay in agriculture but we need a lot more kids to get involved.”
State Rep. Jared Klein (R-Keota) was in attendance as well and said it’s especially important to have people who are invested in technology get involved in the ag business. He said that is one part of the industry that is emerging and people who understand it are in high demand.
“At our age, we need them to know this stuff because I can’t learn (it) but I know I need it on the farm. So, (for) the next generation coming into this, that’s going to be a huge part that comes to the table,” he said.