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Two Morris FFA teams to compete at nationals

Seventeen Morris Area students will be making the 12-hour trip to Indianapolis, Ind. for the FFA National Convention.

While at the convention, delegates will attend sessions on leadership, hear speakers, and participate in the National Convention Days of Service by volunteering at two local charities in Indianapolis, said FFA Advisor Natasha Mortenson. The chapter will also be picking up a chapter award.

The two teams competing this year are only the second and third Morris area teams to compete at nationals. Last year's Ag Issues team was the first group to compete. Once students win the state tournament and compete at nationals, they are not able to compete in that event again, which makes this year's Ag Issues team an entirely new group.

Ag Issues debates "Corn: Food versus Fuel"

Corn, what is it good for?

That's part of the question the Morris Area FFA Ag Issues team hopes to explore when they head to the national FFA competition in Indiana next week.

For the event, teams research the pros and cons of a particular agricultural issue that impacts their local community and present the discussion to a panel of judges. However, the team doesn't reach a conclusion about the issue, instead leaving it open for listeners to form their own opinion, said junior Brooke Wente.

"We knew that [corn] was an issue globally and since we have an ethanol plant in Morris and a bunch of livestock and ag services, we figured it was a very good issue to present in this area," Wente added.

The Morris team chose to present their findings in a mock debate format. Two mediators - Wente and senior Tony Domnick - preside over a discussion between "food only" advocates and "food and fuel" representatives. The food only characters are a member of the fictitious Stevens County Livestock Producers President (sophomore Brady Wulf) and a consumer watchdog organization representative (college freshman Rachel Moser). The food and fuel side features a renewable fuels advocate (college freshman Martha Koehl) and a Monsanto seed scientist (college freshman Eric Wulf).

For the food and fuel side, "we wanted to see the plant side of it - can we produce enough corn? - and the environmental side of it - if it's good for the environment," explained Brady Wulf. "For the food side, it effects both livestock and human consumption, so we wanted to view groceries and cattle feed prices."

"There's a moral issue that goes along with [the topic]," added Wente, "if we should focus on making fuel or if we should use that corn in trying to feed third world countries."

As part of their preparation for the state competition last May and their trip to nationals next week, the team presented to 11 different community groups.

"[One of the most interesting things was] going around locally and speaking in front of everybody. I wasn't really a people person before this," said Domnick.

"Looking back, I think I've really developed as a person through this contest," said Wente. "I can talk in front of people and not get so nervous because of all the times we had to talk in front of crowds."

Marketing Plan team sells organic fertilizer

It took them three years, but juniors Xochil Mendez and Steph Hennen will finally be presenting a Marketing Plan at the FFA national competition.

"I wish you could have been there when we won state," said Hennen, "because it was absolutely the best feeling I've ever had in my life. Me and Xochil went behind stage and just started screaming and crying. It was insane."

Their third team member is sophomore Beth Holland, who only joined the team about a month ago after some personnel changes.

Unlike Morris's other national competing team, which has focused on a single issue since last December, the Marking Plan team changed their focus after winning the state competition back in May.

"At state competition we [presented] our greenhouse," explained Hennen, "but to be competitive at nationals they don't really like if you do something within your own FFA chapter. This is a completely new project."

Their national presentation is a plan for marketing manure solids for fertilizer for a company - a product Holland said is "really cool" and that she didn't even know existed before the team started doing research. The event includes a paper sent to judges ahead of time and a promotional presentation about the product to a different panel of judges in Indianapolis.

To prepare, the team has been coming in early every morning since school started to get caught up and practice their presentation with coach Elizabeth Schaefer.

One of Mendez's favorite parts of the presentation is a design for a bag label and bumper sticker for the fertilizer. During their presentation, Holland explained that "people who like organic seem to really like bumper stickers."

"I like the fact that no one else has come up with this idea to use the solid part of manure for fertilizing," said Hennen. "I think the judges will find that pretty interesting."


Morris Area FFA has also started blogging. You can find updates and news online at