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Sweeter places fifth at national land and range judging contest; team takes 11th

South Dakota youth once again showed their soil and plant expertise with several teams competing at the 2024 National Land and Range Judging Contest held from April 30 to May 2, 2024, in El Reno, Oklahoma. 

 Seven 4-H and 11 FFA teams from South Dakota competed in the national contest, which divides teams into the range, land and homesite judging categories. FFA and 4-H teams compete separately in each category. Teams from each state had to win their respective regions to qualify for the national contest. 

 In the range contest, youth must be able to identify 130 plants and their characteristics and assess a site’s desirability for bobwhite quail and cattle. 

 Sandy Smart, SDSU Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources Senior Program Leader and professor, and Tyler Swan, soil conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, helped students prepare for the range judging contest. 

 Smart said Oklahoma has few plant species in common with South Dakota, putting the South Dakota teams at a disadvantage.  

 “It is a lot of work. Teams spent months preparing for this event, including practicing on the unfamiliar Oklahoma terrain in the days leading up to the contest,” Smart said. “Their hard work and dedication paid off on contest day.” 

 In land judging, contestants evaluate four pits for slope, erosion, permeability, surface runoff, soil texture, depth of soil, determining land class and recommended land treatments. Lance Howe, soil scientist with NRCS, helped the teachers and their students prepare for the contest. 

 In homesite, contestants evaluate four pits for soil texture, permeability, depth of soil, slope, erosion, surface runoff, shrink-swell, water table and flooding before making a final determination. 

The South Dakota teams usually arrive on Saturday and practice Sunday to Wednesday, with the contest on Thursday morning. When not studying, the students get to tour some of the area’s interesting sites, museums and a favorite ice cream shop. 

The Lennox 4-H Land team placed 11th out of 16 teams, with team members Karin Sweeter, Tyler Strasser, Skyler Plucker, Callie Hammerstrom and Coach Kacey Trocke. 

Individually, Sweeter placed fifth out of 63 national competitors.

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