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Fairfield FFA Hosts Test Plot Tour

by Jerry Goshert

Published: Friday, September 15, 2023

The results from this year's Fairfield FFA test plot won't be known until harvest, but if the human efforts are any indicator, the corn crop is likely to be a bin-buster.

Students from Karrin Koontz's FFA program hosted a test plot field day last Thursday in New Paris. The evening began with a pork burger meal and door prizes at the Little League ball diamonds. Then the crowd of approximately 60 people boarded hay wagons for the short drive to the test plot on C.R. 46.

"We have been working hard on this," said Cheyenne Bender, FFA president and a junior at Fairfield Jr.-Sr. High School. "This is something that takes a lot of time, and we're trying to get more kids involved rather than have adults do a lot of the work."

The four-acre plot was planted last May by Brad Showalter and Scott Morehouse, both farmers in the Fairfield school district. During the summer, FFA members checked on the corn as it grew, recording its height at various stages. Their work was part of their supervised agricultural experience (SAE).

Landon Beasy, vice president of the chapter, said the weather cooperated for much of the growing season. The test plot received timely rains.

"We got that nice little bit to keep it going," he said.

Once at the test plot, the FFA members turned the program over to seed company representatives, all of whom are Fairfield alumni. The seed reps included Gary Kauffman with LG Seeds, Rob Geiger with DeKalb and Brad Morehouse with Beck's Hybrids. Beasy, along with fellow FFA member Brooks Geiger, stood in for the Brevant Seeds and Pioneer reps who weren't able to attend.

The seed reps shared information about the hybrids planted in the test plot, discussing maturity dates, drought tolerance, disease resistance, ear placement, stalk strength and suitability to certain soils.

Over the years, U.S. corn yields have increased dramatically, thanks to data gleaned from trials like this one in New Paris.

"We (farmers) get paid by how many bushels we produce," Rob Geiger said. "More bushels, more money, right? The idea is, you want to get more production. You're also more efficient, then. You can feed more pigs that way on a per-acre basis. It's not just about the dollars; it's also about getting the most efficiency out of what we're growing. Today's hybrids are capable of growing, realistically in this area, 200 to 300 bushels per acre."

The Fairfield FFA test plot has sandier ground, so Geiger said it's not likely to produce 300 bushels per acre. But he said he wouldn't be surprised if it yields 185 to 215 bushels per acre.

"The idea behind it is not just planting a seed and getting ears to come up, but you (also) want to keep it healthy," he said. "You want to keep it environmentally friendly, so that way bugs and insects don't bother it. And ultimately you want to produce a good feed product, or ethanol product, for the end user."

Seed research takes place every year at Beck's Hybrids, which is based in Atlanta, Ind. Morehouse serves as Beck's district manager for northern Indiana and western Michigan. He said the company has a 1,200-acre Practical Research Farm.

The seed reps also talked about opportunities for young people considering careers in agriculture.

Kauffman works for CropTech in Millersburg. He said students can get their foot in the door by working as crop scouts during the summers.

In addition to research, the industry needs growers, technicians, managers, public relations and advertising specialists, lab workers and dozens of high-tech positions.

"There are tons of opportunities within agriculture," Geiger said, beyond "just sitting in a tractor or being in a barn."

He added, "I enjoy selling seed for two reasons. Number one, it does keep me on the cutting edge of what technology is doing. The other thing I enjoy is people interaction: getting together with other growers and helping growers advance what they're doing on their farms."

In her first year as Fairfield's FFA advisor, Koontz is starting to see a renewed interest in the agriculture program after a few lean years. This year, over 60 kids signed up to be in FFA.

"The kids want to be involved," she said. "It's super exciting to see what opportunities we have for them."

When the chapter's corn crop is ready for harvest, Showalter will be running the combine while FFA members take a day out of the classroom to help out. Koontz believes it will be an eye-opening experience for the students.

"We're going to learn more out here that day, for sure, than we will in the classroom. I guarantee it," Koontz said. "I always like to say, my classroom just moves. I'm always in the classroom. It just moves. We can't learn agriculture in the classroom all the time. This is the best classroom for them."

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