Here in North Florida, as the dogwood trees start to turn colors and drop their leaves and I wait for the first cool breezes of a seemingly delayed Autumn I often find my memory is easily awoken by hints of past falls.
As a teen I participated for several years in the Agricultural Judging contest on the Wakulla County 4-H team. I fondly remember sticking my nose into a bail of bahia grass hay to check it for freshness. I can still recall my nerves as I stood silently beside my peers, clipboard in hand, intently looking over hogs and heifers rating them by confirmation and preparing the oral reasons to defend my decisions. The feel of oats in my hand as I compared and contrasted the merits of several samples.
The lessons I learned in Ag Judging stayed with me. It was one of my first introductions to the science of Agriculture. As a 4-H Horse project kid before my participation in the contest I had never stopped to consider many of the other aspects of agriculture that informed and supported my interest in horses and my horses themselves.
Understanding how to recognize and judge the grain and hay I fed my animals daily sparked an even greater understanding and interest in agriculture as a whole. Learning to judge other livestock piqued my interest in equine judging and led me to compete in that event at the state level and even win a state judging division one year. Once I was able to drive, my experience in judging agricultural commodities gave my parents the confidence to send me to buy the large amounts of hay and grain needed to keep the horses at our family’s boarding stables happy and fit. One less chore for them to have to worry about.
In college as an agricultural student I found that the 4-H judging programs I had participated in had prepared me perfectly for the practical lab tests in class. I discovered that they were set up in the same format as the 4-H programs I had been in just a few years before. 4-H helped me prepare for college by giving me practice in the exact kind of tests and exams as I would face in almost every practical agricultural lab I would end up taking.
Reading this some might think that the Agricultural Judging contest sounds great for a farm boy or girl looking to have a career in agriculture but it may not be for me or for my 4-H’er. They may change their minds after considering the life skills learned. The ability to think on your feet and the independence to rely on personal knowledge when making decisions are vital real world examples. These are the exact positive life skills that 4-H judging competitions teach and hone in young people.
Long-time Leon County 4-H Agent Marcus Boston says that he has, “seen the positive difference that 4-H has on young people. Agricultural judging teaches independent thinking. Youth have to make choices based off what they know and can’t ask for someone else to decide for them. That’s what you have to do every day as an adult.” Mr. Boston has been organizing the Ag Judging program at the North Florida fair since I was participating in the early 2000’s. That kind of dedication speaks to a real belief in the benefits and results of a program.
The youth who participate in the program can anticipate judging categories that will be chosen from the following:
- Beef (Steers)
- Corn (shelled)
- Heifers (Beef)
- Perennial Peanut Hay
- Grass Hays (e.g. Bahia, orchard grass)
Since different categories depend on availability and community support participants should be prepared for all of the categories.
If coaching or participating in an ag judging team appeals to you, contact your local UF IFAS County Extension Office or visit http://florida4h.org. You can find out more about ag judging at these links: