Six Future Farmers of America (FFA) Chapters gathered in the Jordan Ranch quonset located southeast of Briggsdale, Colorado, to learn about judging rangelands and practice their range plant identification skills.

Six Future Farmers of America (FFA) Chapters gathered in the Jordan Ranch quonset located southeast of Briggsdale, Colorado, to learn about judging rangelands and practice their range plant identification skills. The event took place on Sept. 14 on the Jordan Cattle Ranch, and involved 60 students along with their agriculture instructors. These FFA Chapters were brought together with the common goal of becoming more proficient in evaluating and judging the condition and trend of rangeland sites in eastern Colorado as part of the Range Judging & Plant Identification Career Development Exercise (CDE).

The event was organized by Kevin Schlabach, Agriculture Instructor at Prairie High School in New Raymer, along with the West Greeley Conservation District (WGCD). Sponsors included the State Land Board, Emmett Jordan, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office in Greeley. The participating FFA chapters were Briggsdale, Grover, New Raymer (Prairie HS), Akron, Ovid and Karval.

Ben Berlinger, Rangeland Management Specialist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Rocky Ford, led the group with instruction about rangelands and their importance as both a natural resource and their value to humans. He went on to explain the FFA Rangeland Judging and Plant Identification CDE.

The FFA rangeland judging CDE is divided into two parts. The plant identification exercise involves the naming of rangeland plants common to eastern Colorado together with rating important plant characteristics such as life span, grazing response, season of growth and palatability for cattle. The second part of the contest takes place in the field and requires the students to judge the condition and soils of two different ecological sites. Here the students must determine the plant composition (based on frequency by using a paced transect) of each site, the range condition compared to the ecological site description reference plant community, the suggested stocking rate, and range trend. Finally, based on their evaluation of the existing plant community, each student must select the appropriate management practice (or suite of practices) that would be recommended to the land owner for improvement of the rangeland resource and livestock performance.

Liz Schneider with the West Greeley Conservation District demonstrated the importance of maintaining good soil cover with both live plants and plant litter. Her demonstration was valuable in illustrating to the students the detrimental effects of bare ground and exposed soil due to reduced rainfall infiltration, excessive runoff and water erosion. Berlinger and Schneider teamed up to further explain how proper grazing management and timely rangeland evaluation can improve plant cover on the soil surface resulting in improved functioning of the water cycle on the rangelands.

After lunch that was provided by the West Greeley Conservation District, the group headed out to the field to practice judging an ecological site on the Jordan ranch. After instruction from Berlinger on the correct procedure used to evaluate plant composition, each instructor practiced with their individual students. The entire group came together again for discussion and assessment of their group results.

As the final activity of the day the group reconvened in the quonset for a practice plant identification exercise. This involved the students taking part in identifying 25 rangeland plants and their characteristics. This exercise along with the field work was valuable in helping the students prepare for the Eastern Colorado State FFA Rangeland Judging Contest to be held in Burlington on Oct. 5. Berlinger demonstrated the correct procedure to collect and press plants using a plant press. This will enable each of the FFA chapters to begin their own set of pressed plants to aid future students with the Rangeland Judging & Plant Identification CDE.

Appreciation is given to Matt Pollart, State Land Board, Kandee Nourse, West Greeley Conservation District and Emmett Jordan, Jordan Cattle Company, for providing plant presses and grass identification keys to each of the participating FFA chapters. Additionally, each student received a grazing information stick provided by the West Greeley Conservation District.