BROOKINGS, S.D. - Isaac Kolousek never paid much attention to the grasses his family's cattle were grazing when he checked cow/calf pairs with his dad, Scott. That is, until he began attending South Dakota Section of the Society for Range Management Rangeland and Soils Days two summers ago.
"It definitely changed my perspective. Now, I notice that this grass is different from that grass and this grass grows in May and this one starts growing in July," explains the 17-year-old Wessington Springs FFA member.
Introducing youth to rangeland and soils, while enhancing their knowledge of these precious natural resources found throughout our state, is the focus of the annual event held this year in Redfield, June 26-27, 2018 and co-hosted by SDSU Extension, Spink county Conservation District and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
More than 100 South Dakota 4-H and FFA youth, ages 8 to 18 attended the two-day educational and judging event.
"We want to make South Dakota's youth aware of nature that is all around them. Too often, when youth learn about nature on TV or other media, it's focused on jungles and forests. We have a beautiful ecosystem and biome right here in South Dakota - the prairie is all around us," explained David Ollila, SDSU Extension Sheep Field Specialist, who is one of the event's organizers.
Ollila has seen the first-hand benefits of Rangeland and Soils Days for more than 30 years - first as an agriculture education instructor/FFA advisor and today, as one of the many professionals who help lead the hands-on training.
"Youth are developing skills today that they will use in their future. Any successful rancher or farmer has to understand the foundational principles of how soils work and livestock producers need to understand how rangeland works with soils. Even those who will not be involved in agriculture, will have opportunities for employment," Ollila explained. "And, for all the rest, who don't use this information in their future careers, I always told my students, 'you may not go into these areas, but those of us on the prairie need you to speak on our behalf.'"
One of Ollila's former students, Dawn Gardner can relate. She said it is because of Rangeland Days and 4-H and FFA rangeland judging that she chose the career that she did.
"Because of Rangeland Days I realized I really enjoyed plants and working with them, so I chose a degree that focused on plants," explains the South Dakota State University graduate who received a bachelor's degree in biology with an emphasis in botany and a master's in wildlife and fisheries sciences.
Today, Gardner works as a senior vegetation ecologist for the environmental consulting firm, BKS Environmental Associates, Inc.
"I am identifying plants, many of which I learned at Rangeland Days, on a daily basis when we are in the field doing reclamation monitoring and baseline assessments for energy companies," she explained about her more-than-a-decade-career assessing reclamation of land to make it suitable for livestock grazing and wildlife habitat.
The prairie is the classroom
The curriculum utilized during Rangeland and Soils Days is age-appropriate and hands-on. "People of all ages are drawn to nature and this hands-on curriculum. We're out in the prairie using all our senses to explore soil and identify range plants - touch, taste, smell and feel. Seriously, we all get our hands dirty as we identify rangeland plants or rub damp soil through our fingers to determine its texture."
Hunter Eide agrees. The 16-year-old Gettysburg High School student says he enjoys being able to identify two similar looking range plants based on small differences. "It may be just a couple hairs or the seedhead - or the way it smells," said Eide, who puts the knowledge he has gained identifying plants when he's out in the prairie fixing fence with his grandpa or competing in rangeland judging contests.
In 2018, Eide was a member of the South Dakota team that won the National Range Judging competition held each year in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The national reserve champion team was Wessington Springs 4-H, also from South Dakota.
"I like the competitiveness of it. I find it interesting to learn about what these plants do and how important they are to rangeland and pasture management," Eide explained.
Since he won the national rangeland competition, during this year's Rangeland and Soils Days, Eide focused on expanding his knowledge of soils.
Eide and other youth learned about soil health, how to identify soils as well as how soil type, slope and other factors impact engineering and construction from Lance Howe, Project Leader, Soil Scientist with NRCS. Howe added the soils component to Rangeland Days 14 years ago because, as someone who spends his workweek focused on conducting and evaluating soil surveys for the federal government, he believes all South Dakotans need a basic understanding of soil health.
"Our soils are priceless. If we don't protect our soils, and understand how to manage our soils - we don't want to see what happened in the 30s happen again," Howe explained.
Sponsors of this event include: USDA NRCS, Society for Range Management, SDSU Extension, American Legion Post #92, Frankfort Ringneck 4-H Club, Redfield Energy, Animal Health Center, Full Circle Ag, Redfield Food Center, Appel Oil, Grant County Conservation District, Redfield Hardware Hank, Aurora County Conservation District, Haakon County Conservation District, Redfield Investments, Beadle County Conservation District, Hamlin County Conservation District, Redfield Seed, Baumann Lumber, James River Water Development District, Roberts County Conservation District, Burdick Bros Inc., Jessen Heating, Refrigeration and Electrical, Rude Transportation, Boyd-Wagner Agency, Lawrence County Conservation District, South Brown Conservation District, Clark County Conservation District, Marshall County Conservation District, South Dakota Soil Health Coalition, Codington County Conservation District, Millborn Seeds, Spink Conservation District, Crop Production Service, Precision Soil Management, Spink County 4-H Leaders, Dairy Queen, RDO Equipment, Young Farmer and Ranchers, Day County Conservation District, Redfield Area Chamber of Commerce, Wilber Ellis Air and Faulk County Conservation District.
2018 rangeland & soils judging contest results
After spending several hours in the field learning about rangeland and soils, many youth spent a portion of the last day of Rangeland & Soils Days competing in a variety of contests. During the contests, youth test their newfound knowledge to determine the land's capability class which, in turn, allows them to make recommended conservation treatments using vegetative and mechanical erosion controls.
There is also a homesite portion of the contest where youth assess a building location for potential issues that would occur when developing a homesite.
There are four divisions youth can compete in. New Ranger, youth 8 to 10 years old; Wrangler, youth 11 to 13 years old; Scout youth 14 to 18 with no previous judging experience/instruction and Go-Getter, youth 14 to 18-years of age who are experienced.
Below is a list of contest winners:
Rangeland Top Hand Awards
Top overall scoring individual. Scores in the judging competition (40 percent), Student talks (35 percent), and displays (25 percent) all contributed toward the award.
- New Ranger Top Hand: Ty Haskell, Spink County, received a silver belt buckle as the overall top scoring youth.
- Wrangler Top Hand: Bennett Gordon, Lawrence County, received a silver belt buckle as the overall top scoring youth.
- Scout Top Hand: Korbin Leddy, Grant County, received a silver belt buckle as the overall top scoring youth.
- Go-Getter Top Hand: Danika Gordon, Lawrence County, received a silver belt buckle as the overall top scoring youth.
In this division, youth presented talks on a variety of range management and/or range resource topics. Visual aids were required; Power Point preferred.
- Scout/Go-Getter: Danika Gordon, Lawrence County, was recognized as the Top Scout/Go Getter from South Dakota. In 2017, Gordon also received this award and represented South Dakota by giving a talk during the 2018 Society for Range Management annual meeting. This year, the second place speaker, Korbin Leddy of Grant County, will present his talk during the 2019 Society for Range Management annual meeting in Minneapolis.
- New Ranger: Ty Haskell, Spink County
- Wrangler: First place, Bennett Gordon, Lawrence County; second place, Matea Gordon, Lawrence County and third place, Tate Ollila, Butte County.
- Scout: Korbin Leddy, Grant County
Range & Soils Competitions:
- New Ranger Range Judging top scoring individuals: First place, Bobbie Eide, Potter County; second place, Katelyn Gebhart, Perkins County; third place, Tyler Warkenthien, Spink County; fourth place, Faith Baumberger, Hand County; and fifth place, Lila Johnson, Corson County.
- Wrangler Range Judging top scoring individuals: First place, Tanner Eide, Meade County 4-H team; second place, Morgan Mackaben, Butte County and third place, Tate Ollila, Butte County.
- Scout Range Judging top scoring individuals: First place, Korbin Leddy, Grant County; second place, John Peterson, Meade County and third place, Jecoliah Anderson, Spink County.
- Go-Getter Range Judging First Place Team: The Wessington Springs 4-H team placed first, qualifying to compete in the 2019 National Range Judging competition held in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Team members include: Noah Hainy, Rylie Stevens and Landon Wolter. The South Dakota Grasslands Coalition is sponsoring the team's travel expenses.
- Go-Getter Soils Judging First Place Team: The Meade County 4-H team placed first, qualifying to compete in the 2019 National Range Judging competition held in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Team members include: Hunter Eide, Randi Tivis, Kylie Shaw and Lauren Fritz. The South Dakota Soil Health Coalition is sponsoring the team's travel expenses.
Youth also expanded their leadership skills and rangeland management understanding by participating in student talks and educational displays.
In this division, youth entered a tabletop display on any range-related topic. Those youth recognized include the following:
- New Ranger: Ty Haskell, Spink County;
- Wrangler: First place, Bennett Gordon, Lawrence County; second place, Tate Ollila, Butte County and third place, Matea Gordon, Lawrence County;
- Scout: Korbin Leddy, Grant County; and
- Go-Getter: Danika Gordon, Lawrence County.
To learn more about the 2019 South Dakota Section of the Society for Range Management Rangeland and Soils Days, which will be held in Redfield, contact Ollila by email.