By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
The Madison-Plains High School FFA is embarking on a multi-phase improvement project that will, within the next few years, replace all of the program’s farmland drainage tile.
Madison-Plains is one of less than 10 school districts in Ohio that has acreage set aside for agriculture education. The 120 acres lies along the perimeters of the school campus on Linson Road and Route 38.
“We have clay tile now, but a lot of it is cracked and some of the lines are blocked,” said Gary Hoffman, agriculture education instructor and FFA advisor. “So, we have places that flood and don’t drain properly. We lose at least a couple of acres a year because of it.”
The FFA program is replacing all of the clay tile with plastic tile made by Advanced Drainage Systems in London. The first phase, set to be done in the next two weeks, involves 24 acres located behind the softball and baseball fields, between State Route 38 and the ditch that runs between the high school and middle school.
The cost of the first phase is $20,000 to $24,000. The FFA is paying for it with crop sale profits. No tax dollars are being used.
“The school farm is pretty self-sufficient. We’ve been saving up for the tile project for the last five years,” Hoffman said. “The last couple of years, corn and soybean prices have been really high, so we’re investing that back into the property.”
The FFA program will retile the remaining 96 acres in phases as more savings is accumulated. The farm produces 50 acres of soybeans, 50 acres of corn and 20 acres of wheat.
The land is owned by the school district. The FFA program donates $20,000 to the district each year as rent for the land. The program itself owns three tractors, a corn planter, a grain drill and tillage equipment, which allow students to do the actual field planting.
“The students plan the seeding rate and then do the planting,” Hoffman said. “We have 180 ag-ed students across four grades. During their time in high school, each student will have one or two opportunities to operate the equipment.”
With crops just outside the school doors, students also get hands-on experience in estimating harvest yields and identifying weeds and crop plants common to the area.
Heritage Cooperative fertilizes and sprays the FFA fields at no cost in exchange for a highly visible test plot along Linson Road. Students use the test plot to learn how to test plants for mois-ture, calculate pounds per bushel, and grade grain by looking for cracks, splits and weed seed.
“Ultimately, they figure out the number of bushels per acre the plot produced and use the data to figure out the profit per acre,” Hoffman said.
The students don’t harvest the crops themselves; combines and other harvesting equipment are beyond the FFA budget. They hire local farmer Don Hux to do the job, then compare the actual yields with their estimated yields.
In addition to providing an outdoor classroom for all ag students at Madison-Plains, the school farm can help FFA students fulfill their required SAE, supervised agriculture experience. This year, junior David Hodge and his uncle, Aaron Lanigan, turned the stubble from the school wheat field into straw bales. Hodge is selling the bales as part of his SAE.
The Madison-Plains FFA farm land goes back to the days of Bob Phillips, the school district’s first agriculture education teacher. In the late 1950s or early 1960s, he was instrumental in convincing school leaders to purchase the acreage, Hoffman said.
Today, the agriculture education team at Madison-Plains includes Hoffman, Matt Unger and Mallory Zachrich, all of whom serve as instructors and FFA advisors.