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Illinois youth agronomy teams head to regionals with more than crop scouting knowledge

Wesclin FFA Members crowded around a field plant for identification.

URBANA, Ill. — Providing youth an opportunity to experience what a career in agriculture would be like during high school can be vital in life decisions and the future of the ag industry. Youth participating in the Crop Scouting Competition held in August at University of Illinois Crop Sciences Research & Education Center in Savoy had the chance to step foot in the field that can become their future.

During the competition, teams of students rotate through 10 stations set up in corn and soybean fields to test their knowledge on topics including weeds, insects, disease identification, corn and soybean growth stages, abiotic injury, pesticide application, and integrated pest management.

“The Illinois 4-H and Illinois Association FFA teams spend a lot of time preparing, and as agricultural professionals, we want to provide youth with a chance to test their knowledge and reward their hard work,” says competition coordinator Talon Becker, with University of Illinois Extension. “The contest is a great networking tool providing access to conversations with today’s researchers and experts.”

Having skills to scout farm fields allows farmers and industry leaders to understand what is happening with crop growth or yield stealers, including diseases, insects, and weeds. With this information, growers can strategically make the best management decisions to maximize yields and overall profitability while also minimizing negative environmental impacts.

The top two teams, the Wesclin FFA and Pontiac FFA chapters, advanced to represent Illinois at the 2023 Regional Youth Crop Scouting Competition in Nebraska on Sept. 18. Every team went home with a cash prize to support their team, and the top two with sponsorship for their trip to Nebraska. Supporting partners include University of Illinois College of ACES Department of Crop Sciences, Illinois Extension, Illinois 4-H, Illinois Soybean Association, FS Growmark, Illinois IPM, TeeJet, and Illinois Certified Crop Advisor.

Following the contest, the teams took pictures and shared a few words about the competition with their coaches. Each team was excited and proud of their results. Many wanted to hit the books to learn more, continue conversations with university experts on additional weeds and plant diseases, and share what they have been studying in the farm fields in their hometowns.

Wesclin FFA shared some of their favorite and most challenging stations of the day, such as the insects, weed identification, and the drones at the pesticide stations. When asked why they decided to attend the competition, the group shared, “A couple of us did the competition last year, had a blast doing it, so we wanted to get a team together again this year,” says the Wesclin FFA crops team.

“Coming to the competition helps the team get more than they do from studying pictures in the classroom,” adds Wesclin FFA Advisor and coach Taylor Zurliene. “The competition gets them actual field experience and a lot more hands-on learning.”

What do the youth think about working together? When asked if the team would want to do the contest over again on their own rather than as a team, the team responded with a unanimous no. “We’re all friends here, and we each contributed in different ways,” says the Wesclin FFA members.

The teams hope others will try new things like crop scouting and want to encourage aspiring ag professionals in the state to talk with their friends and advisors in 4-H and FFA to form their own team to compete next year. The Wesclin FFA Chapter travels to the regional competition with the mantra, “If you get the opportunity to, why not?”

For more information on youth crop scouting, becoming a partner in future competitions, or Illinois Extension, contact Talon Becker, competition coordinator and commercial ag educator, at, 217-300-0576.

Photo Caption: Wesclin FFA crops team working together at the weed identification station at the Youth Crop Scouting Competition held in August at University of Illinois Crop Sciences Research & Education Center in Savoy. Photo by Jenna Braasch, Illinois Extension. The article feature photo is available for media download

SOURCE: Talon Becker, Commercial Agriculture Specialist, Illinois Extension
WRITER: Jenna Braasch, Media Communications Coordinator, Illinois Extension

About Extension

Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities. Illinois Extension is part of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.