4-H planting a "Field of Dreams" with crop scouting

September 2023

By Brian McNeill, Extension Educator, Extension Professor

Keeping young people connected to agriculture is vital for its future. Providing challenging ways to engage youth to improve their skills and promote potential careers are a few of the goals of 4-H & FFA Crop Scouting. One focus of the program is to engage youth early in their high school careers and help them develop their knowledge of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and other life skills such as communication, critical thinking, and observation skills needed for a successful career in agriculture. 

The Minnesota 4-H & FFA Crop Scouting challenge encourages youth in 7th grade through one year out of high school to establish teams of three to five and recruit a mentor (such as an agronomist, crop scout, or farmer) to help provide the skills needed to participate in the 4-H & FFA Crop Scouting challenge. Once the teams are established, practices occur in actual fields. Topics are selected each year and resources are provided to registered teams. In 2023, the topics included Insect Identification, Weed Identification, Pesticide label reading, Cover Crop Identification, Corn Growth identification, Soybean Growth identification, and Crop Field Issue Diagnosis. The team rotates every 20 minutes to each topic area. This unique structure provides youth with the opportunity to interact with experts in every topic area.

This team opportunity is designed to challenge youth, improve their communication skills, and engage with professionals in agriculture. Topics are designed to promote real-world application and decision-making. Teams need to work together, establish a solution, and have a conversation with an agriculture professional. These professionals are University of Minnesota and Extension faculty and agriculture business professionals from a variety of businesses and organizations. Some of the agriculture professionals represent Minnesota Corn Growers, CHS, Syngenta, and other area agronomists.

Thirteen teams participated in the statewide opportunity that was held in the plots at the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus this year. The teams represented a variety of counties across Minnesota. Two teams will be representing Minnesota at the regional event held in Mede, Nebraska on September 18th. The team winning first place was a combined 4-H team from Dakota and Rice Counties. The second-place team is a FFA team from Sebeka. These multistate opportunities provide youth with the opportunity to further test their knowledge at a larger level and interact with peers in nearby states.

Evaluation data supports the focus of this work and praises the program’s hands-on opportunities. With growing enthusiasm from participants, coaches, and sponsors this valuable collaboration will continue to grow and provide new opportunities. Many exciting experiences will benefit participating youth as they grow their potential and find their dreams in agriculture.