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Cream of crop in HHD Crop Skills Challenge

A new HHD event brings generations together for agriculture-related skills challenges.

Curt Arens, Editor, Nebraska Farmer

September 29, 2022

3 Min Read
Participants in the HHD UNL TAPS program Crop Skills Challenge
LEARNING BY DOING: The HHD UNL TAPS program Crop Skills Challenge tested the skills of participants in numerous categories, including weed identification. Photos by Curt Arens

It was a first for Husker Harvest Days, but the Crop Skills Challenge hosted by the University of Nebraska Testing Ag Performance Solution program and the UNL Water and Integrated Cropping Systems hub was a big hit at the show.

UNL TAPS program director Krystle Rhoades reported that 330 people participated in the unique HHD contest, including 35 FFA teams of two to four high school students.

There was more than a farming reputation on the line for participants — with $250 awarded for first place, $150 for second and $100 for third at each of the two sessions each day, all sponsored by Farm Progress.

Challenge contestants tried their hands at setting irrigation siphon tubes, identifying crop insects and feeding damage, and identifying weeds — along with a marketing challenge that included a quiz and a chance to market 30,000 bushels of grain using a prize wheel to decide their price.

“We had a lot of great feedback from participants of all ages,” Rhoades says. “The siphon tubes definitely drew a crowd, from young people that had never seen a siphon tube, to the older generation that was excited to reminisce on memories of years ago.”

She adds that it was most fun to listen to conversations from the FFA chapter members, cheering each other on, and from parents or grandparents helping the next generation with different parts of the challenge.

FFA challengers

Cambridge FFA won the FFA chapter portion of the contest. Katelyn Day, the instructor at Cambridge, brought 62 FFA members to HHD this year, including the four students who won the FFA competition.

Cambridge FFA senior Dierks Sayer says that he and his team enjoyed the Crop Skills Challenge this year and found the weed identification most challenging. “I had already set siphon tubes before,” Sayer says, “so that was no big deal.”

Amherst FFA took second place, and Boyd County FFA got third.

Day says that HHD offers special opportunities for her students each year. “There is so much they can see at Husker Harvest Days that they just can’t see in the classroom,” she says, “especially the pivots operating in the exhibits, the side-by-side cattle handling and chutes, and other technology they can see in person.”

Next generation

For the Crop Skills Challenge at HHD, every age got involved. “Tuesday afternoon of the show, our winner was an 11-year-old boy and his dad from Saline County, Kan.,” Rhoades recalls. “The young man waited to see what his scores were and wanted to know what he had gotten incorrect. He was so excited to find out he had won the top prize. It truly was an opportunity to see the future of agriculture with such young participants involved.”

On Wednesday, a husband and wife won the second- and third-place prizes. “They told their daughter who participated in FFA in high school about it and told her she should stop by and try it out,” Rhoades says, “so, Thursday, their daughter and son-in-law stopped by to participate and won first and second place that day.”

FFA members from around 35 chapters taking part in the Crop Skills Challenge

FFA members from about 35 chapters took part in the Crop Skills Challenge during HHD.

Rhoades says that the TAPS team helping with the challenge was impressed with how this new contest event went at HHD. “It was a great time, and the interactions were more informal, but still just as beneficial, we felt,” she says. “We hope to continue the event in the future and make it even bigger and better.”

TAPS is an innovative competitive program developed by UNL research and Extension specialists and educators to allow participants to test a large variety of strategies and technologies in a low-risk environment, giving them access to a large dataset from the competitions at the end of the year.

Learn more about the Crop Skills Challenge at HHD and UNL TAPS by visiting

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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