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FFA contest returns to MAC

Future Farmers of America (FFA) students from 27 high schools throughout the region gathered on the Mineral Area College campus, as well as several satellite locations Thursday to take part in this year’s MAC FFA Contest.

“This is our eighth year to hold the contest at MAC,” said Dr. Chad Follis, MAC horticulture instructor. “In that time, we’ve really seen it grow.”

The first year that the FFA contest was held on campus, 125 students took part in the event. That number has greatly increased.

“Today we had 783 students participate,” Follis said. “We held soils and floriculture contests in the MAC greenhouses; dairy foods in North College Center; livestock at the St. Francois County Fairgrounds; meats at the Farmington Public Library; horses at the Herbst Equine Farm; and the rest in the MAC gym.”

Throughout the daylong event, the high school students took part in events representing a wide diversity of interests.

The categories included advanced public speaking; extemporaneous speaking; ag mechanics; ag sales; creed speaking; entomology; farm management; floriculture; forestry; horse evaluation; job interview; landscape; livestock; meats identification and judging; dairy foods; public speaking 1 and 2; and soils.

Meanwhile, students at the county fairgrounds appeared before judges to answer a wide variety of questions on livestock and their care; those at the Herbst Equine Farm shared their experience and knowledge with horses and students at MAC studied a variety of soils.

Much of the entomology students’ time was spent in MAC classrooms and greenhouse identifying live exhibits in 30-second segments before moving on to the next.

“We use real insects, real plants, real sheep, goats, horses and poultry,” Follis said. “One of the things we hear from the institutions — and there’s about 15 of those that have come all five years that we have done this — the FFA advisors continually tell us that one of the reasons they come to MAC is because we have live specimens.

“That’s something that’s rare in southeast Missouri. There are other contests you can go to but they’re using pictures, videos and things like that. When you come here, you’re really going to be hands-on with various kinds of livestock and actual insects. You’re going to have living plants in front of you to work with, identify or whatever it is you’re asked to do. It’s not just going to be specimen plates and things of that nature.”

Follis said the use of real specimens is something the instructors who bring their students to MAC really like.

“That’s because, once you get up to district contest in a couple of weeks at SEMO in Cape Girardeau, when they get to state level at Mizzou in Columbia and when they get to nationals, which will be coming around in the fall, those places are mandated to have live, actual samples. They can’t get by with specimen plates or preserved examples.

“That’s what we try to shoot for and what I think sets us apart from the other couple of options that people have here in southeast Missouri. It may seem trivial, but it’s a big deal to the instructors because many times the chapter doesn’t have the money to have all the insects or all 100 of the weeds in the agronomy or all the greenhouse plants.

“A lot of times they’re having to study off of photographs and videos and things, so to put their students in front of real live specimens before they go to districts is big for those teachers. This is the first of two practice contests that gives these students a chance to measure where they’re at.

Follis believes the annual FFA Contest is not only a positive experience for all of the students involved but is recruitment opportunity for the community college as well.

“This is about community outreach and involvement for MAC,” he said. “It promotes agriculture and it’s on our campus. That’s one day when agriculture sort of takes over here. It not only helps our students but the non-agriculture MAC students as well, to understand how important agriculture is in our community and our country. They also learn how integrated agriculture is in our culture.

“It allows the students to see with their own eyes what we have on campus and the many opportunities they can find here. It also allows me and our other ag teacher, Alan Bayless, to get in front of a lot of students and meet them one-on-one. That’s one of the best things far and away that we get out of this.”

“When you come here, you’re really going to be hands on with various kinds of livestock and actual insects.” — Dr. Chad Follis

Among the 783 students from across the region who participated in Thursday's FFA contest held at Mineral Area College were, from left, Eli Dixon, 16, of Bloomfield High School; Daniel Miranda, 15, of East Prairie High School; and Alex Sikes, 16. The three teens were taking soil samples for the competition.

Among the 783 students from across the region who participated in Thursday’s FFA contest held at Mineral Area College were, from left, Eli Dixon, 16, of Bloomfield High School; Daniel Miranda, 15, of East Prairie High School; and Alex Sikes, 16. The three teens were taking soil samples for the competition.

Participants in Thursday's Mineral Area College FFA Contest gather around a pen at the St. Francois County Fairgrounds to observe goats and then write down their observations.

Participants in Thursday’s Mineral Area College FFA Contest gather around a pen at the St. Francois County Fairgrounds to observe goats and then write down their observations.

Kevin Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3614 or kjenkins@dailyjournalonline.com

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