JACKSON’S MILL - Ravenswood Future Farmers of America (FFA) won first place and Clay County FFA won second place in the 2017 West Virginia Grasslands Evaluation contest at Jackson’s Mill, April 7.   Cabell Midland FFA placed third. Ravenswood  FFA team member, Fiona Lane, had  the highest overall individual score.

The highly competitive contest is open to all high school level FFA or 4-H members in the state with teams typically consisting of three or four students. The contest takes place each year during the West Virginia Beef Expo at WVU Jackson’s Mill in Weston. Ravenswood FFA and Clay County FFA teams will represent West Virginia in the National competition scheduled to take place in Missouri in June.

“This is one of the most worthwhile contests in which we participate because the students can apply what they learn and that is important, it is real life,” said Jason Miihlbach, Ravenswood FFA team coach and Ravenswood High School Ag teacher.   “Once the kids have learned the basic concepts they can apply what they’ve learned today at home if they have livestock or property and then also as adults. Not all contests are like that.”

This year makes the eighth time Ravenswood FFA has won the West Virginia Grassland Evaluation contest, and they have been the national champions twice since they began participating in 2008. “We’ve been lucky over the past 10 years,” said Miihlbach. “Success breeds success. The older kids teach the younger kids when they come into the program. They pass the knowledge on.”

“The Grassland Evaluation Contest consists of four segments where the participants have to evaluate the pasture condition as it is,” said Gary Redden, NRCS District Conservationist.   “These sections include grassland condition, soil interpretation, wildlife habitat, and plant identification. Each factor must be considered in evaluating pastures to best utilize the resource and to help make useful management decisions.”  

Each contestant is also given a scenario that provides a quantity and type of livestock a landowner has and must determine if the forage matches the livestock. If the two do not match the contestant is required to give recommendations to the landowner to make his operation productive. “It is important to know the plants you should have in your pasture regardless of what livestock you are raising,” added Miihlbach, “It’s good to know how you should manage your land and what plants you need for animals to get proper nutrition.”

“I’ve done seven distinct FFA agricultural related contests and this is without a doubt my favorite one,” said Teresa Riffle, Ravenswood FFA team member. “This is the fourth time I’ve competed in this competition and the second time on a state winning team. A lot of hard work goes into preparing like going to practices, finding legume percentages for different plots, and finding myself on an aerial soil map. I’m feeling relaxed and content right now as the state competition has come to a close.”

The Ravenswood FFA formed their team in January and started practicing one day a week and then twice a week as the competition grew closer. “We practiced over spring break and it paid off,” said Katelyn Rollyson, Ravenswood FFA team member. “I will use what I’ve learned in the future and apply my plant knowledge and management techniques to my horses.”

“I wasn’t expecting to have the highest score. When they called my name I was very excited,” said Fiona Lane, Ravenswood FFA team member and highest overall individual scorer of the competition. “I will use the information that I’ve learned to better manage pastures on my goat farm.”

The Grassland Evaluation contest was developed by the West Virginia Grassland Steering Committee which is made up of farmers, educators, scientists, conservationists, and government agencies across the state. The committee is an advocate and proponent for improvement and continued wise use of grassland to improve water quality and maintain healthy and productive land and maximize profits. The goal is to improve the participants’ knowledge of grassland management.

 “Many of the students that participate in the competition pursue careers in the agriculture field,” said Jim Nester, Tygarts Valley Conservation District Supervisor. “Ninety percent of these kids live on a farm and once they are out of school the majority of them will go back to the farm.”

 There were eight teams competing with a total of 27 contestants from seven West Virginia counties: Cabell, Clay, Greenbrier, Harrison, Jackson, Putnam, and Tucker. Scholarships were awarded to the top two teams as well as the student with the highest individual score. Ravenswood FFA had five students competing on two teams including: Fiona Lane, Gabriela Martinez, Teresa Riffle, Katelyn Rollyson, and Brooke Whited.

Members of the First Place Ravenswood FFA Team: Fiona Lane, Gabriela Martinez, Teresa Riffle, and Katelyn Rollyson each received a $500 scholarship. Members of the Clay County FFA Team: Isaac Childers, Samantha Hicks, Clarissa Keiffer, and Darren Ray each received a $250 scholarship. Fiona Lane of Ravenswood FFA had the highest overall individual score and received a $500 scholarship. Members of the Cabell Midland FFA team: Winsten Harvey, Faith Irwin, Charles “CJ” Simpson, and Mackenzie Snowden each received a third place team plaque and honorable mention.

If you would like more information on how to participate in the competition, go towww.wvca.us/education/grassland_contest.cfm  or contact your local Conservation District.