Buffalo FFA Agriculture Issues team tackles feedlots in presentation
After months of preparation, the Buffalo FFA Agriculture Issues team is approaching their state competition where they will present both the pros and cons of producing cattle in feedlots.
After being inspired from a presentation created by chapter members several years ago, the Buffalo High School students opted to discuss feedlots in their demonstration.
“Feedlots are a controversial topic, not necessarily in our area, but across the country,” says Ballek.
Preparing a presentation
In February, a six member team of students began working to prepare a presentation that presents a balanced perspective of feedlots.
Team members include senior Misty Ballek, junior Jordan Skovgard and freshmen Kameesha Morris, Kelsi Klaahsen, Haven Ruby and Paige Hutton.
“We had a basic script to start from,” explains Ballek of their presentation, also noting that they did lots of research online, in scientific journals and by talking to people. “We got information anywhere we could.”
In their presentation, Ballek serves as moderator of a talk show on RFD-TV. Environmentalists Hutton and Skovgard look at the environmental and health aspects of feedlot-produced cattle, Ruby poses as a feedlot operator and Morris stands in as a representative of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Additionally, Klaahsen represents the packing industry.
Along with facts, the students worked to create an entertaining and interesting presentation that engages the audience.
In preparing, along with putting together a script, the group worked to present to as many different audiences as possible.
“It’s been a long process,” adds Skovgard, noting that they have worked hard to memorize their parts, as well as prepare to answer questions from the judge’s panel.
Pros and cons
Acknowledging that the issue has two sides, each team member took a stance to advocate for or promote against feedlots.
“Paige and I go over how feedlots affect the environment,” says Skovgard of her portion of the presentation. “I look at soil damage and atmospheric damage created by the feedlots. Paige goes into the health differences between grass fed cattle and feedlot cattle.”
Serving as a neutral voice in the debate, Morris represents the EPA and explains the regulations for confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in the U.S., as well as repercussions for noncompliance.
“I also talk about emissions,” comments Morris, “and I talk about all the regulations that the EPA puts in place to make sure the environment and farmers are happy.”
Ruby, as a feedlot operator, describes the processes they use in feedlots, also comparing feedlot grown cattle to range-fed beef.
“Feedlots produce mass amounts of cattle in short amounts of time,” explains Ballek. “It takes two to 2.5 years on the range to get cattle to the same weight as in the feedlot.”
As a representative of the packing industry, Klaahsen looks primarily at beef byproducts and statistics related to beef consumption in the U.S.
The students say they learned more than they anticipated in the process of developing their presentation.
“I think it really opened our eyes,” says Ballek of their research process. “We really understand the differences of opinion now.”
Morris says, “We had to listen to both sides and to look into both sides. We are all a little more knowledgeable about about the issue.”
“I was really interested in the byproducts,” she continues. “Statistics says that a cow weighing 1,500 pounds only produces only 500 pounds of beef, and the rest goes into making beef byproducts.”
For Skovgard, emissions data collected from CAFOs was surprising, and she emphasized the impacts of feedlots on the environment.
Ballek notes that some of the emerging technology in feedlots was interesting.
“I learned about a couple of feedlots that are using duckweed for filtration,” she says. “They also use duckweed for feeding the cattle. It was really interesting.”
In the information they have learned, Skovgard notes, “A lot of the information I have learned has helped me in a lot of other things. I have used statistics from this presentation to answer other questions.”
“It is surprising how much feedlot production comes up,” she comments, mentioning that she has shared much of the information she learned in her everyday life.
The students will enter into the final competition of the year at the Wyoming State FFA Convention on April 9 in Cheyenne.
Agriculture Issues CDE
The National FFA Association utilizes career development events, or CDEs, to allow students to develop skills applicable for their future in the workplace. One of those events, Agriculture Issues asks students to select a current topic in agriculture and present both sides of the issue in an unbiased presentation.
“We are supposed to show all aspects of the issue and not make any conclusions,” explains Buffalo FFA member Misty Ballek.
Students develop a 10 to 15 minute presentation on the issue and must answer five minutes of questions from a panel of judges in the contest.
Teams from across Wyoming will compete at the Wyoming State FFA Convention on April 9. The winning team will advance to the national level, where they will face off against the rest of the nation in Louisville, Ky. at the end of October.