Every year in May, nearly 1,000 4-H and FFA students and coaches from over 34 states gather for the National Land and Range Judging Contest. Students test their skills in judging the adaptability of the land for various purposes, including farming, range management and home development.
These principles are applicable in future career fields including environmental and agricultural management, natural resource conservation, home building and construction. Trophies are awarded across three categories: land judging, range judging and homesite evaluation, with awards for both FFA and 4-H students.
Following two days of practice and a serious rainstorm, contestants met on May 2, 2019, near El Reno, Okla., at the Cheyenne Arapaho Tribal Headquarters. The contest was co-hosted by the Tribe and held on Tribal land. The Oklahoma County Conservation District and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) set up the competition with assistance from local conservation districts, the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) and other USDA agencies.
Members of the entire conservation partnership, including the Oklahoma Conservation Commission (OCC), were on-hand to ensure the event ran smoothly. The National Land and Range Judging Contest is sponsored in part by the National Conservation Foundation (NCF), represented at the event by NCF Board of Trustees Member Rick Jeans. This year, NRCS Chief Matt Lohr was a special guest, marking the first time an NRCS Chief has been present at the national event.
“I am a proud past National FFA Officer and 4-H Member, and my favorite day in the whole world is when I get a chance to come and hang out and see great young leaders like yourself, ” Lohr said. Lohr encouraged the competitors to build on their challenging week and to reach for new experiences outside their comfort zone.
“That’s the way we build ourselves as greater leaders is by having the courage to try those new things, even when it feels kind of strange and we have to form those new habits,” he said. “I congratulate all of you who have been able to participate in this Land and Range Judging Contest. You traveled across the country and have really stretched yourself, being in a new community, meeting new people and trying new activities. I commend you, because that’s how we begin to build on that leadership ability. I hope you will take all the skills you have learned and the confidence back home to your communities and be able to continue to develop those leadership skills.”
Also in attendance was the recently appointed Regional Director for USDA’s Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC) Mission Area in Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas, Jimmy Emmons.
Individuals don’t just compete for trophies. The Oklahoma State University (OSU) Department of Plant and Soil Science offers a $1,500 scholarship to the top-scoring individual in the land judging contest and a $1,500 scholarship to the top-scoring individual in the home site evaluation contest.
The winners’ eligibility is contingent upon enrollment at OSU as a Plant and Soil Science Major. In addition, if the students have a high school GPA of 3.5 or better and ACT scores of at least 24, OSU will add an additional $1,500 to the scholarship for a total of $3,000.
After the score sheets were graded by staff from the Oklahoma State University Agriculture Extension Service, trophies were awarded at a banquet held at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Awards were presented to each team and individual winners for land judging, range judging and home site evaluation. Each category included FFA and 4-H awards. Among the winners were the Tyler FFA Chapter of West Virginia and the North Miami Sr. 4-H Club of Indiana for the team event and to Madison Craven of Tyler FFA Chapter of West Virginia and Gavin Taylor of Monroe County 4-H Club of West Virginia for the national individual championship.
The national team championship trophies in range judging were awarded to the Hamilton FFA Chapter of Texas and the Wessington Springs 4-H Club of South Dakota. National individual championship trophies in range judging were awarded to Jessica Brown of Hamilton FFA Chapter of Texas and Noah Hainy of Wessington Springs 4-H Club of South Dakota.
The national team championship trophies for home site evaluation were awarded to the Hondo FFA Chapter of Texas and the Monroe County 4-H Club of West Virginia. National individual championship trophies were awarded to Cassie Bendele of Hondo FFA Chapter of Texas and Madison Stroud of McCook County 4-H Club of South Dakota.
Adults and coaches can compete as well. Trent Trotter of Vian, Okla., won the land judging contest, Eric Kale of Hico, Texas, won the range judging contest, and Hunter Smith of Hondo, Texas, won the homesite evaluation contest.