TCA students till up top marks at state land judging contest

Each acre of land in Nebraska tells a different story with its surface texture, soil depth and erosion potential.
The Career Academy (TCA)’s National FFA Organization members interpreted each of those soil-based tales in best-selling fashion in late October.
Four Lincoln Public Schools students wrote successful novels at the Nebraska State Land Judging Contest Oct. 25. Isabel Cressler, Parker Smith, Sapphire Guzman and Johanna Roux qualified for the national contest with their work on land near Broken Bow.

“I was so excited,” Cressler said. “I started practicing a little less than two months ago, so state or nationals didn’t seem in the cards for me. I’m excited to see where this adventure takes us.”

Cressler said the group was overjoyed with the state results. TCA finished fifth of 46 teams with 1,012 points. Cressler earned second place in individual standings and Smith captured fifth place.
The top five state teams – Falls City, Wisner-Pilger, Alma, Bishop Neumann and The Career Academy – booked trips to El Reno, Okla. It is the first time TCA has qualified for nationals. The program has won the area land judging contest once and advanced to state three times.

Tom Wheeldon is the advisor of the focus program’s FFA chapter, which was chartered in 2015. He said the team’s work ethic and positive demeanor made a difference at land judging events this fall.
“This team is great to work with,” Wheeldon said. “Very positive and they do not quit. At area contest they judged by Branched Oak Lake in the mud and in Broken Bow on a misty, cold, foggy day.”
Wheeldon said land judging is an activity that provides many educational benefits for students.
“The contest has three parts – physical features, classing the land and selection of recommended treatments,” Wheeldon said. “You learn problem solving, teamwork, organizational skills and estimating of slope, erosion, soil depth and textures. This is a hands-on and thinking person’s contest.”
Lower Loup Natural Resources District General Manager Russell Callan agreed. Officials from the Lower Loup NRD and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) hosted state action.
“As Nebraska’s largest natural resources district, which stretches from the eastern Sandhills in the west to fertile farm ground in the east, the soil types within the Lower Loup NRD are diverse,” Callan said. “Getting Nebraska’s high school students out onto the landscape is a great way for them to learn about our state’s natural resources.”

Hundreds of students from all corners of Nebraska participate in land judging each year. The activity’s goal is for them to understand soil structure of different land parcels. They learn how to recognize physical features of the soil and determine land capability for crop production. They also evaluate what management and stewardship practices landowners should take.
Students qualified for the state land judging event at seven area contests earlier this fall. Each team included four students from the same FFA chapter. TCA students advanced to state after doing well at a site near Branched Oak State Recreation Area on Oct. 4.
State participants competed under damp and foggy conditions on the eastern edge of Broken Bow. They used an evaluation card to judge four soil pits on a terraced landscape. They assessed soil depth, erosion potential, surface texture, permeability, slope and thickness of each plot of land.
State judges rated each student’s evaluation card to determine individual and team scores. All of the top five teams surpassed 1,000 points.
Wheeldon said TCA students had fun traveling to state. In addition to meeting many of their peers for the first time, it was also a new experience to be in the central part of Nebraska.
“Students learned that each site or location in the state can be different, but if you train you can figure it out. Never quit and be coachable,” Wheeldon said.

Cressler said she was happy when she arrived at the state site. This year’s land judging contest took place on several acres that are currently enrolled in the USDA Farm Service Agency’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
“I work on prairies during the summer, so when state was on CRP that almost matched my prairies, needless to say I was excited,” Cressler said.
The state land judging award is the latest FFA accomplishment for the TCA program. TCA students represent LPS in five FFA leadership development events and ten career development events.
TCA won the agriculture biotechnology team title at last spring’s State FFA Convention. Students also earned two team awards in agriculture demonstration and individual honors in agriculture biotechnology, agriculture demonstration, natural resources speaking and senior public speaking.

Cressler, Smith, Guzman and Roux will join more than 500 students at the Canadian County Expo Center near Oklahoma City. The National Land and Range Judging Contest will happen April 30-May 2.
Smith said he was looking forward to the national event. He felt TCA students would have fun telling successful stories about their land judging skills in Oklahoma.
“It was really exciting to find out we made it to nationals,” Smith said.
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Published: November 20, 2023, Updated: November 21, 2023

Photos Courtesy Nebraska Association of Resources Districts / From left, The Career Academy students Parker Smith, Sapphire Guzman, Isabel Cressler and Johanna Roux smile at the Nebraska State Land Judging Contest. The quartet finished fifth in team standings with 1,012 points. They became the first land judging team to qualify for nationals in TCA history. They will travel to the Oklahoma City suburb of El Reno for the national contest next spring.