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More than 700 Youth Compete in National Range Judging Contest

SRM Sponsored Event by Providing Jackets to Winners

By Christina Mascarenas and Allysia Scherer, Oklahoma NRCS 

Over 700 young agriculture leaders from more than 35 States gathered in Oklahoma for the 70th National Land and Range Judging (NLRJ) contest the first week in May. This contest is hosted in partnership with the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts (OACD) to build the next generation of conservation professionals. To participate, students ages 14-18 years old must have competed in land and/or range judging competitions in their home State and placed well enough to qualify for the national competition held in El Reno, OK. 

The contests started out with pouring rain and a lightning delay, but that did not stop the participants from doing what they had prepared for all year. NRCS professionals served as judges for both the land judging and range contest as students wearing raincoats and boots were trying to protect their score cards while observing the land and grading its quality based on factors such as soil texture, and slope, plant identification, and wildlife and livestock value were assessed in the range contest. 

This year, the NLRJ moved its headquarters from Oklahoma City to the Canadian County Event Center near El Reno. According to Larry Wright, NLRJ’s primary coordinator this year, due to the growth of participation, it was necessary to find a facility to accommodate the expansion.

“The new location gave the contest an opportunity to expand to the west,” Steve Alspach, Oklahoma NRCS State soil scientist, said. 

According to Alspach, NRCS has been involved since the national contest began. Over the past several years, the role of NRCS has been to assist on the site selection, setup, score soil pits, and organize the NRCS employees who assist with the contest. This year, 38 Oklahoma NRCS employees worked 920 hours to help with the contest preparations, practice days, and the actual event. 

Brandon Reavis, State NRCS rangeland management specialist, said NRCS employees work in many capacities in the NLRJ contest. They led students through the competition instructions at practice sites, setup the official contest plots and the plant identification lines for the official range contest judging. Reavis hopes the NLRJ event plants a seed in the students to consider careers in natural resource management. 

Nick Owen, NRCS soil conservation technician in the El Reno field office, is the chair and member of several NLRJ committees and has worked on the contest year-round for 26 years. He worked with local landowners and found a new location early last summer after they knew the contest was being moved to Canadian County. Owen helped coordinate traffic control with the local police and sheriff, along with working out the details to move hundreds of buses and vehicles in and out of the pasture. 

“For students who intend to have a career in the agricultural industry, it (the contest) provides some knowledge of soils and their use. For students who don’t, this opportunity gives them the experience of being on a team and learning how teamwork is needed to be successful,” Alspach said.

Owen agreed and added, “These are the types of people we want to work for us.” 

Alspach summed it up by saying, “the competition is its own little machine. Everyone has their bits and pieces.”

Oklahoma NRCS reaps the rewards of spending many hours working the NLJR contest by having the opportunity to meet and recruit potential NRCS employees from across the Nation. 

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