L-N State Range Judging team place 15th
October 7, 2021
On Sept. 29, the 2021 State Range Judging Contest was held in the beautiful Sandhills of Cherry County near Valentine (nine miles from the South Dakota border). This contest was hosted by the Society for Range Management, the NRCS, the Nebraska Extension and the NRD. The contest is held in varying parts of the state each year and can prove to be a challenge even for those students familiar with the area.
Vying for top spot were 269 students from 42 FFA chapters including: Ainsworth, Amherst, Arapahoe-Holbrook, Arcadia, Banner County, Bridgeport, Broken Bow, Burwell, Cambridge, Chadron, Cody-Kilgore, Cozad, Creek Valley, Deshler, Elgin, Gordon-Rushville, Hayes Center, Kearney, Lawrence-Nelson, Loup City, Loup County, McCook, McPherson County, Mullen, Norris, O'Neill, Ord, Palmer, Red Cloud, Riverside, Rock County, Sargent, Sidney, Southern Valley, St. Paul, Stapleton, Stuart, Sutherland, Thedford, Valentine, Wallace, West Holt and Wheeler-Central.
The Lawrence-Nelson FFA chapter was respectfully represented by Kylie Beard (senior qualifier), Wyatt Brockman (senior qualifier), Theo Kathman (senior qualifier) and Nathan Elledge (sophomore – wildcard qualifier). They were coached by Erin Fay Statz (local range enthusiast).
The range judging contest itself is actually an extensive look at all aspects of range management. The students were required to identify 24 range plants (out of the 1,700 possible) along with their life form, life span, origin (native or introduced), season of growth, livestock forage value and growth form. These plants proved especially challenging as the hosts of the contests removed the seed head (helpful in identification of some plants) or cut the plant down to mere inches to make participants pay extra attention to small identifiable plant traits. Many plants were familiar to the L-N students, but many can only be found in the Sandhills, therefore increasing the level of difficulty for L-N students!
Next the students were to evaluate three ecological sites in the area. These are areas each must be identified by site name, given a similarity index score, and determined a degree of use. Once the student has identified the site name based off of topography and soil characteristics, they must determine the condition of the site based off the plants present and ideally allowed for said site. This is where knowing your plants and their pedigree comes in handy! Lastly at each ecological site, there is an area that is "grazed" versus "un-grazed" and students must determine the degree of use based off of weight of forage removed. These ecological sites are definitely a challenge when you have never seen a Shallow site, as was at the contest, and many of the plants are unfamiliar.
Another area of the contest is a ranch map with a stocking rate problem, and a set of range management questions. Each student is given a hypothetical ranch and scenario on which to make management decisions. These decisions may include whether or not cross-fence, implement brush control, install or relocate water sources, etc. In addition, based off of the ranch map scenario, students must calculate AUM's (Animal Unit Months) available, AUM's needed, and whether or not to increase, decrease or maintain current stocking rates. The set of range management questions cover all areas and could be questions such as: What are two range sites in Nebraska that commonly have a water table that influences plant growth and production? (Answer: Saline Subirrigated & Subirrigated for those who are curious!)
Now in regard to results! Lawrence-Nelson students did great! There were 127 students in the senior division. Top score for Lawrence-Nelson belonged to Theo Kathman with a 378/574 placing him at 41st. Next was Wyatt Brockman with 366/574 placing him at 47th, Kylie Beard with 349/574 placing her at 54th and Nathan Elledge with 328/574 placing him 65th.
(Note: Nathan technically got bumped up a division to make a full senior team and would have placed 51st out of 142 individuals in his rightful junior division.)
Now, to put these scores into perspective, placings were no more than 10 points in difference, therefore the difference in your placing higher than someone else, could be the difference in knowing one plant pedigree more than someone else! A very tight competition and as a team, Lawrence-Nelson placed 15th out of 36 senior teams and scored higher than many of the FFA chapters who are from the Sandhills and surrounding areas!
Overall, the Lawrence-Nelson students had a great year and will be looking forward to even bigger results next year! We will miss our senior judgers, but we have solid group of range judging students that show a lot of promise including: Wyatt Hajny, Bailey Cedar, Riley Funk, Jacob Kathman, and Josie Hajny. And we always welcome anyone interested in range, or hanging out with Erin Fay at 7 a.m. with coffee! State range judging hasn't seen the last of Lawrence-Nelson!
Many thanks to Gary and Bernita Ostdiek for allowing students to practice in their pasture, Jean Schendt for opening the shop for early practice, Mr. Hunt for serving as the school sponsor for state range and all the parents who encourage these students to be involved!