Middle school FFA national finalists


October 6, 2022

Becky Martinez, the middle school vocational teacher and Future Farmers of America advisor for the Big Springs chapter of the Hot Springs County School District, presented the school board with three of the six middle school FFA state champions and national finalists on Sept. 20.

Martinez sees agriscience research as integral to her agricultural science class. This year’s students spent an average of 30 class periods on their projects, which they chose to fit into one of six categories, before pursuing research similar to theirs, to help build their studies.

Once students wrote their own research papers and conducted their experiments, they presented their findings, first to the local science fair, then to the FFA State Agriscience Fair, where the state champions were able to send their research papers onto nationals.

Up to 12 projects were eligible to be selected in each division and category as national finalists. This year, 11 FFA members from Wyoming earned this honor, and six of them are from the Big Springs chapter. The second week of September saw the finalists present their research to judges through a virtual platform.

The local national finalists are:

• Alec Martinez and Hayden Johnson (both 8th grade) in Food Products and Processing, Division 2, answering the question, “Based on consumer preference, how long should a steer carcass be dry-aged for optimal taste?”

• Sisters Chloee (8th grade) and Jayssie Owsley (9th grade, absent from the board meeting), in Plant Systems, Division 2, answering the question, “Is manure an effective fertilizer to increase plant growth in alkaline soil?”

• Cruz Mascorro and Gage Pittsley (both 9th grade and absent from the board meeting) in Environmental Services and Natural Resources, Division 2, answering the question, “What baits are the best for catching trout?”

“We wondered if the extra aging time was worth the additional cost,” Martinez and Johnson’s paper stated. “The results will help the agricultural industry because it will help feedlots, small breeders and producers to know how long to age cattle.”

After feeding cattle from the Martinez family the same recipe for the same length of time, the students sent the beef to Wyoming Legacy Meats to get slaughtered, aged and processed, but with one dry-aged for 28 days, and the other for 35 days, before serving the steaks to 89 people at a high school wrestling event.

While majorities said the 35-day-aged steak was more tender, and more likely to earn their purchase, a majority described the 28-day-aged steak as more flavorful.

“We wanted to see if we could get better production off our fields,” the Owsley sisters’ paper stated. “Knowing if manure is an effective fertilizer to increase plant growth in alkaline soil is important to the agriculture industry because (farmers) can hopefully get a higher yield from their crop at lower costs.”

The sisters filled both pots with the same amounts of soil, and 13 barley seeds each, then placed them in the same controlled environment, but with 25% manure in one pot, whose barley grew at a higher rate, with a 100% seed germination rate, while the pot without manure saw only four barley plants grew, yielding a 31% seed germination rate.

“We also found water was absorbed by the soil with manure way better than the pot with no fertilizer, as it had standing water for a while, and crystallization due to the amount of salt not being broken down by a helpful fertilizer,” the sisters’ paper stated.

As for Mascorro and Pittsley, they asserted their study was important for the agriculture industry to help those who catch and sell fish determine what to use, so their sales might be more productive.

“We used a variety of five different baits that included shrimp, worms, marshmallows, cheese and bread,” the students’ paper stated. “We used each bait for 30 minutes, and recorded how many fish we caught.”

The shrimp and worms each caught nine fish, while the marshmallows caught eight fish, but the cheese and bread didn’t catch any fish, and “actually fell off almost every cast, no matter how lightly we cast.”

Board Chair Sherman Skelton, who served as a judge at the local science fair, lauded the students as “amazing,” telling them, “You guys did an incredible job,” and “You would never have guessed you were only in middle school, based on the quality of your presentations.”

All six students will attend the National FFA Agriscience Fair, a key competition that is part of the annual National FFA Convention and Expo, from Oct. 26-29 in Indianapolis.


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