Winfield FFA Team Advances to National Competition
Months of practice and study have paid off for members of the Winfield FFA Land Judging team. They recently won the Alabama state competition and earned the title "State Champs."
Members of the championship team are Cody Roberts (sophomore), Daniel Chism (junior), Jake Dozier (junior) and Jake Elkins (sophomore).
The team is directed by ag teacher Adam Aldridge.
To qualify for the trip to Oklahoma City for the national event, the Winfield team first had to compete at the county and district levels. Top finishes allowed the team to advance to the state level, where it won first place.
Competition is fierce, said Aldridge, noting his team won the state championship by only one point. The state competition was held March 15 in Wetumpka.
Aldridge said he began working with his students to prepare for land judging competitions as soon as school began last August. What started out as an entire class was whittled down to four boys in time for local contests that began in October.
"I was able to see who was truly interested in the competition," Aldridge recalled. "These boys knew their material right away."
How Do You Judge Land?
When the team begins its preparations for the competition, the first item on the long list is to study "the packet." The packet contains all the basic information the team will need to make its determinations during the competitions.
At its most basic, the competition is designed to teach students how to assess the highest and best use for land. Aldridge said during his competition days he was told a student in land judging would never buy a bad piece of property.
Several components make up the criteria for judging the best use of a parcel of land.
"In land judging, you’ve got to determine several factors such as soil texture, soil depth, slope, erosion and permeability," Aldridge explained. "Once these are established, you can use that information to determine the major limiting factors of a piece of land. You determine its land class. More or less you are determining what is the best use for a piece of property."
In Alabama competitions, recommended land treatments include cropland, pastureland, forestland and homesite. The national contest includes only the cropland and pastureland categories.
The team basically had to learn new criteria for the national event because all of the standards are different. For example, the numbers defining gently sloping land in Alabama are different from the numbers used in Oklahoma. The boys had to memorize the new rules and definitions.
Certain factors are provided for the teams during a competition such as the soil test results. Stakes will be set up so team members can determine the slope of the land. They are also provided with samples of topsoil and subsoil so they can ascertain the soil texture.
"It’s very fun to see the pieces come together," Chism said. "It’s kind of like a puzzle. Once you’ve gotten all the little pieces together, you see the big picture - what the land is worth, how it needs to be used."
Roberts, who plays for the Pirates, looks at the competition like it is a game.
"It’s like baseball. Just go out there, do your best and try to win," he said.
They all agree they have spent too much time preparing for the competition to not take it seriously.
Going to the national competition is a bittersweet moment for the young team. According to the rules, once you compete in the national contest you aren’t allowed to return in the same event.
The boys admitted they were anxious during the countdown to the top team in the state competition. But concern turned to confidence the closer the announcer got to the top of the list.
Twelve teams competed at the state level. The announcer started at 10th place and worked toward first. Roberts said that at about number 5, he had decided they might just win it all.
Aldridge acknowledged the boys were downplaying their excitement at winning the championship.
"They were ecstatic," he recalled. "They worked really hard and they were able to stay focused."
Dozier’s celebration after winning the state championship will be remembered by his teammates for a long time to come. The others kid him about falling to ground and rolling around in the excitement.
Most of the boys have other activities to keep them busy when they’re not preparing for land judging events.
Chism plays football, is a member of the student council and an officer in the Key Club.
Elkins plays football, baseball and basketball, and Roberts is on the baseball team.
If you are interested in Land Judging or assisting a team, please contact your local FFA chapter.
Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.