Future Farmers show their stuff in Rifle | PostIndependent.com

Future Farmers show their stuff in Rifle

John Gardner
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
John Gardner Post IndependentFuture Farmers of America students compete in a horse judging contest at the Garfield County Fairgrounds in Rifle on April 12. The Rifle FFA horse team finished first in the horse judging competition and will compete in the state tournament in May.

RIFLE, Colorado – Jillian Mello was focused as she inspected the market hogs in the corral.

The Rifle High School senior jotted down a few marks on a score card and stood silently among the group of students judging swine in the livestock competition at the Garfield County Fairgrounds in Rifle on April 12. The competition was part of a career development event for the Future Farmers of America.

“This is kind of like my sport,” the 18-year-old Mello said after a morning of judging livestock. “I don’t do sports,” she added, “Almost all I do is FFA.”

So, this is one of the competitions where she gets to compete against other students in her sport of choice, she said. And she enjoys it.

“I find them a lot of fun,” she said about the competitions.

The competition involved around a dozen schools from the Colorado River Valley District. The Rifle FFA Club had 14 total competitors in the event, including six competing in agriculture mechanics, five in horse judging, and three in livestock.

Students from each school participated in different agriculture related events to test their skills in a competitive setting.

Categories ranged from livestock and horse judging to agriculture mechanics, which included tasks in welding, electrical, fluid identification. And there was also a landscape nursery and floriculture competition, as well.

The events are designed to help prepare students for future agriculture careers and give them some real world experience, according to Brad Bessy, Rifle High School Agriculture Teacher and FFA advisor.

“If they are to go into an animal science based career, this gives them an opportunity to test their skills,” Bessy said of the livestock judging contest.

But the competition was also to prepare the students for the state judging tournament, which will be held in Ft. Collins in May, and ultimately lead to the national competition later this year in Indiana.

“We try to simulate this like the state contest,” Bessy said. “That way when the kids get to the state contest they don’t have any surprises.”

Students judging livestock went through and scored each of the animals according to a judging system. Students judged different classes of sheep, beef and swine, and had 10 minutes between classes. Then, the students would have to explain the reasons that they judged each class the way they did to a panel of professional judges.

That is a big part of the contest, according to Bessy.

“It takes a lot of practice,” Bessy said. “For a lot of kids, the reasons part is their Achilles’ heal, because you have to work hard at it to be successful.”

Students who competed in the welding contest were graded on how well they followed directions, welding characteristics, and safety. And it’s one of the toughest aspects of the competition according to Randy Murr, President of the Rifle Aggies Booster Club.

“It takes a lot of prep,” Murr said.

The Rifle students had been preparing for this competition, two hours a day, one day a week, since November, Murr said.

In the floriculture category, students were required to identify tools used in a nursery, plant and houseplant identification and care. They were also challenged with creating a floral center piece arrangement from fresh flowers.

This area of the event that focuses on the “green” industry, according to contest volunteer and retired teacher Ray Chelewski.

“It’s a little different than what most people think of agriculture,” Chelewski said. “Most people think of agriculture as cows and plows, or out in the field doing some sort of production, or in the corral with animals. But, aspects like nursery landscape is more of an aspect in which we improve our lifestyle.”

And it’s geared to other businesses as well, Chelewski said, like landscaping or flower shops. And, according to Bessy, these aspects allow for more participation from students who don’t raise livestock.

“Only 2 percent of the population involved in agriculture are involved in farming and ranching,” said Bessy. “So, with all the different competitions like floriculture and nursery landscape, it gets some of the kids who can’t afford livestock into the [FFA] program.”

And even though Mello – who has raised goats and pigs since a young age – doesn’t plan on an agriculture career, she said that what she’s learned in FFA, and in events like this competition, will help her in any career she chooses.

“It’s the leadership and the team building that will help,” she said. “With nursing, you have to be able to work with others, and this has helped me develop those skills.”

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