FFA youth in northwest-central Minnesota have a unique opportunity to help area farmers as well as learn valuable agronomy skills by participating in a new program led by the University of Minnesota Extension called “Team Soybean!”
Angie Peltier, the regional Extension crops educator based in Crookston, came up with the idea to help educate growers about potential soybean cyst nematode infestations and prevalence in their fields. SCN has been spreading across Minnesota since the pest was first identified in 1978. As soybeans pushed north and west in the state, SCN followed, all the way to the Canadian border.
Peltier and colleagues tried to help growers with SCN identification in 2018. With a grant from the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council, they set up an SCN soil sampling project and provided more than 1,800 farmers with soil bags and complimentary lab analysis.
“Unfortunately, fewer than 10% of the sample bags that we distributed were submitted for analysis,” Peltier says.
Last year, when a northwest Minnesota farmer asked if she would oversee another SCN sampling program, she knew a different strategy was needed to ensure better participation. In collaboration with other Extension specialists — soybean agronomist Seth Naeve, regional crops educator Anthony Hanson, educational content development and communications specialist Phyllis Bongard and youth development educators Brian McNeill, Margo Bowerman, Alysa Tulibaski and Becca Turnquist, Peltier submitted another grant proposal to MSR&PC for Team Soybean — an SCN soil sampling program that relies on youth to gather samples.
“Not only will this program introduce the next generation of farmers and ag service providers to this destructive pathogen, students also will have the opportunity to gain the important skills of learning how to follow soil sampling protocol, interpret test results and provide SCN population-based management recommendations to the farmers whose fields they sampled,” Peltier says. “We hope that the enthusiasm of Minnesota FFA’ers will be contagious and reinvigorate the fight against SCN.”
With most schools starting at the end of the month, lining up participating FFA chapters now is critical for the program’s success. Peltier has been busy contacting FFA advisors, hoping to line up a maximum of 42 FFA chapters to take soil samples.
FFA chapters get practical experience, sampling kits
Each participating FFA chapter will receive a sampling kit including a soil probe, instructions, work gloves, sample bags, a shipping box with a prepaid label and other needed materials.
“A curriculum will accompany the sampling kit so that FFA advisors can introduce students to soybean cyst nematode, the most yield-limiting pathogen of Minnesota soybeans,” Peltier adds. “The curriculum will help them to better understand why SCN is something that is worthy of their focus and efforts, to find estimate SCN population densities through soil sampling.”
Lessons will be provided on how to interpret raw sample results and management recommendations, so students can share those with farmers whose fields they sampled. For students who want to learn more, further instruction will be available about soybean varieties with SCN genetic resistance, and how to map soil sample results.
Team Soybean! is offered on a first-come, first-served basis. FFA chapters in the following counties are eligible to participate: Aitkin, Becker, Benton, Cass, Clay, Clearwater, Douglas, Grant, Hubbard, Itasca, Mahnomen, Marshall, Morrison, Norman, Otter Tail, Pennington, Pine, Polk, Pope, Stearns, Stevens. Todd, Traverse, Wadena and Wilkin.
“We’d like to have all materials in place as soon as possible [before school starts] to make the instructors’ role in Team Soybean! as easy as possible,” Peltier says. “The sooner that the ag instructor from an FFA chapter indicates that they’d like to join Team Soybean, the sooner they can lock in their chapter’s participation and receive the sampling kit and corresponding curriculum.”
Data gathered about SCN prevalence and severity will be shared with soybean farmers and agricultural professionals at upcoming winter meetings, and through printed and digital Extension materials.
Soybean grower Kris Folland, Halma, is excited about the SCN sampling project.
“Team Soybean is a creative way to provide farmers with a technical service that they need completed in a timely fashion over a wide area,” says Folland, who also serves as chair of MSR&PC's production action committee. “A positive side benefit is getting youth involved and giving them agronomic skills. I’m excited that this includes our next generation.”
Live in northwest-central Minnesota and want your local FFA chapter to get involved? First, contact your school and see if the ag teacher knows about the program — and if so, has signed up.