Joel Wahlman and Alex Helms at the Southeast Purdue Agricultural Center near Butlerville, Ind., never dreamed their novel idea would attract attention statewide. Their goal in setting up the FFA Profit Plots program for 2017 was to encourage local ag students to learn about crop production, marketing and research.
By the time SEPAC held its field day in August, it was obvious they were well on their way to achieving that goal. Members of four FFA chapters stood in front of their plots and explained the recipes they had come up with for growing corn, and assessed how they thought their plots were doing so far. They had already learned about seed selection, how to compare fertilizers, how to determine seeding rates and much more. Before the project ended, they would learn the value of marketing, the importance of repeating tests more than one time and many other things.
Among those things would be that it’s difficult to get an accurate estimate of corn yield even in mid-August. All plots wound up yielding more than the students had estimated using conservative methods before the field day. That was partly due to an excellent season for grain fill, which occurred after field day, Wahlman says.
What the students wanted to know when they returned for a wrapup meeting at SEPAC after harvest was which FFA chapter had earned the most money and won the contest. Batesville FFA took top honors. The strategy those students and their advisor put together not only resulted in the least expensive input budget, but also netted the most profit per acre.
“We were careful to tell them that what we reported to them as profit was based on gross income minus variable expenses,” Helms says. “It didn’t include land charge or a labor charge. We didn’t want them to think farmers were making as much profit as what their numbers showed, because farmers must cover all costs.”
Wahlman quips, “Basically it was like they were farming grandpa’s land for free and using grandpa’s equipment. But we think they still got the point: Top yield and most profit aren’t always the same.”
Belinda Puetz of CountryMark attended the wrapup session as well. Learning about the project through Indiana Prairie Farmer, she was impressed with the efforts to introduce students to such valuable concepts. CountryMark and Indiana Prairie Farmer sponsor an essay contest each year, and CountryMark sets aside funds to recognize the winners. This year’s theme was about the best farm management ideas, but the contest didn’t draw any entries.
“We decided this project met the objectives of what we were trying to encourage people to do,” Puetz says. “It was definitely a management idea, and SEPAC certainly went outside the box of normal activities to make this happen. We were happy to award money to both the chapters and SEPAC.”
SEPAC plans to continue the project in 2018, Wahlman says.
Check out the slideshow to see photos from the wrapup session.