Students compete in Ag Industry Day

By Tara Kulash

Students from regional high schools had the opportunity to learn about livestock judging and SIU’s agriculture program all in one day.

Close to 800 high school students from Future Farmers of America and 4-H organizations competed in the College of Agricultural Sciences’ eighth annual Ag Industry Day Friday. Competitions included horticulture judging, dairy judging and livestock judging.

Susan Graham, business manager in the College of Agricultural Sciences, said the competition brings the entire agriculture school together. She said most of the students are involved in volunteering from setup to cleanup, sorting the


registration and serving as group leaders or ring leaders.

Mary-Grace Bell, coordinator of the event and a graduate student in animal science, said this year had its largest turnout, and last year had about 650 participants.

Nikki Haarmann, a senior from Effingham studying animal science, said she helped with the dairy competition. She said cows of different breeds from SIU and the surrounding area were brought in for judging.

Haarmann led them into the ring, and four cows were in the ring at a time. High school students were divided into two groups and had to place the cows in order from highest quality to lowest quality based on certain critera, Haarmann said, such as utter quality, body capacity and dairyness of the cow.

She said a professional judge was brought in to check the cows as well, and participants who had scores closest to the professional’s won prizes.

Kelli Thompson, a junior from Cowden studying agriculture education, said she helped with the horticulture contest.

Similar to the dairy contest, participants in the horticulture category had to judge plants.

She said examples of criteria were to check if the plant was leaning or wilting.

Thompson said the students had to identify 50 different plants and take a practicum test, where they made corsages out of supplied flowers.

Besides learning about judging criteria, Thompson and Haarmann said the event was also a great recruitment opportunity for the high school students.

“All these FFA kids, a lot of them will go into ag majors, and by doing stuff like this, you see what the SIU program has to offer,” Haarmaan said. “They get the chance to talk to some of the current students as well, so they can get a more personal connection to the college.”

Thompson said the event was valuable even for students who don’t decide to major in agricultural sciences.

“It’s valuable tools that these high schoolers will be able to learn for their future jobs, and even if they don’t choose to go in that specific degree area, it’s something they’ll always have and be able to use,” she said.

Bell said she agreed the competition is an excellent recruitment tool, and this year she worked with community colleges such as Shawnee Community College and Rend Lake College, because 60 percent of students in the College of Agricultural Sciences are transfer students.

Graham said recruiters from community colleges were offered booth space in the tents, and Registered Student Organizations also had booths, so prospective students could see the activities the university offers.

The day ended in rain, but not before the competitions were finished.

Bell said this was the first time in her three years at the event that rain held off until the contests were over.

“It’s basically a rain or shine event, though,” she said. “The contest has to happen whether it’s raining or not.”

Haarmann said it began to rain lightly during the awards ceremony, but it didn’t affect anyone’s mood.

She said this was her fourth year helping at the event, and she does it because she thinks it’s important to help out her college.

“The college has given me good opportunities to learn and do what I want to do, so it’s the least I can do to give back,” Haarmann said.

Todd Winters, interim dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences, told WSIL-TV enrollment is up 9 percent from 2011 in the College of Agriculture.