MARSHALL - Nearly 300 college students from across the state were in attendance at the 2012 Minnesota Post-Secondary Agriculture Students (PAS) State Conference Wednesday at Southwest Minnesota State University.
"It's kind of a cool organization," said Chuck Stranberg, executive director of Minnesota PAS. "We don't have all the schools in the state here by any means, but we've got the largest ones. Ridgewater College has 220 ag students and (Minnesota State University) Mankato has about 180 this year. Then, there are students from Worthington, SMSU and the Ridgewater vet tech program."
The annual event spans two full days, offering workshops, contests and camaraderie and culminating with a banquet, beginning at 6:30 p.m. tonight.
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Ridgewater College students Austin Orren, Dustin Schuld, and Grant Moorse work together for the team portion of a Livestock Specialist contest during the 2012 Minnesota Post-Secondary Agriculture Students State Conference Wednesday.
"We'll give out our awards and announce our new officers at the banquet," Stranberg said. "We had interviews (Tuesday night). Most of them are 19- and 20-year-old kids who are committed to agriculture. They know what's going on. They know they're going to get a job."
Three area graduates have their agricultural futures mapped out for the most part. Austin Orren (Tracy Area graduate), Grant Moorse (Minneota) and Dustin Schuld (Southwest Minnesota Christian) are all sophomores at Ridgewater College.
"I plan on working in the swine industry somewhere," Orren said. "Possibly in the Pipestone system."
Moorse and Schuld are planning to return home to farm.
"My family just won the 4-H Family of the Year award," Moorse said. "It was pretty cool."
The trio also teams up for livestock contests. They're hoping to defend their title this year.
"It's our second year," Moorse said. "We won state last year in overall livestock specialists. We went to nationals."
While the results won't be revealed until the banquet, the three students were the first ones to finish the group portion.
"There are two portions to the contest," Orren said. "There's a team practicum, with team problems. There are seven questions and it's worth 70 points. The individual part is 100 questions for 100 points."
In addition to the livestock specialist contest Wednesday, students could also participate in Floriculture, Equine Specialist, Dairy Specialist, Crop Specialist, Employment Interview, Scholarship Interview, Career Planning and Progress and Animal Health contests.
"The Career Planning is for first-year students," Stranberg said. "They go interview six individuals in an area they're interested in. Then, they'll set some personal goals based on that. During the interview, they'll go through the process. The Career Progress is the second part of it, where they hone in a little bit tighter. It really helps the kids focus on where they want to go."
The equine testing had a total of 300 points, including 61 multiple choice questions, 10 true and false, 13 fill in the blank and one problem-solving section worth 100 points. Students also tested their knowledge of horse, saddle and bridle parts identification.
"The winners from each of these go to nationals," Stranberg said. "We qualify a bunch of people. In Career Planning, it's the top five. Those go to nationals in Des Moines, Iowa, in March. In Prepared and Impromptu Speaking, just one goes. We probably send six Dairy teams. I think we send one each of the beef, swine, sheep and overall livestock."
Maureen Carmody, a graduate of Marshall High School, found her calling in agriculture while involved with FFA. She's currently double majoring in ag business and marketing at SMSU.
"My adviser, Paul Lanoue, really built me up on how to be a leader and showed me different aspects of that," Carmody said. "PAS is kind of an extension of FFA. So after holding my officer positions in the high school FFA, this just fit."
Carmody said she enjoyed the presentation of keynote speaker, Courtney Nolz, who kicked off the state conference Wednesday morning.
"Courtney's the South Dakota Beef Ambassador," Carmody said. "She's really knowledgeable about consumers and the misconceptions that consumers have about the beef industry."
Nolz currently attends South Dakota State University and was honored to be asked to speak at the 2012 gathering.
"I'm going to school for entrepreneurial studies and a minor in Spanish," Nolz said. "Coming to SMSU to speak to the PAS state convention kids was fun."
After serving as ambassador in 2011, Nolz stepped into a new role.
"I recently took on a position with the South Dakota Beef Industry Council as the program coordinator assistant," she said. "So now I'm training the up and coming beef ambassadors."
The biggest message that Nolz wanted to get across to students in her presentation was that there are still a variety of agricultural opportunities available.
"All of the opportunities in agriculture, whether it's a struggle or a triumph, there's always a positive," Nolz said.
Minnesota students tend to do well at nationals, Stranberg said, especially in certain areas.
"We have the largest membership in the nation," he said. "The largest chapter is Ridgewater. We'll probably have two to three of the top five Dairy teams in the nation. We typically do well in the Career Planning and Progress areas too, where we have several place winners in the top three. In almost all the areas, we're competitive."
Even Nolz, who is originally from Mitchell, S.D., had to applaud Minnesota's strength in agriculture.
"I had to shout it out, but the Minnesota Beef Ambassador, John Weber, did beat me at the national contest this year," Nolz said. "I'm happy for him, though. He's at nationals now."