PCHS land judging team 17th in country

Published 8:44 am Monday, June 6, 2011

The Polk County High School Land Judging team. Back row: Coach John Vining, Sam Vining, coaches Chauncey Barber and Richard Smith; front row, Shalyn Brown, Amber Lynch and Natalie. (photo submitted)

Placing 17th in a competition might not immediately evoke applause, but when you’re up against more than 100 teams from across the nation, with no divisions based on school size, placing that high means you’ve achieved something notable.
Polk County High School’s Land Judging team recently accomplished this feat at the National High School Land Judging competition held at Oklahoma State University.
“It’s a very competitive event. Anytime you go to a national contest with a new team, with just one to two years experience, and place 17th in the nation is very impressive,” said PCHS teacher and coach Chauncey Barber.
This year’s team members included Shalyn Brown, Amber Lynch, Natalie Hilbig and Sam Vining. Coaches were Barber, Polk County Cooperative Extension director John Vining and Richard Smith, a retired agricultural instructor for PCHS.
Barber said he’s proud of how well PCHS has done at state and nationals over the past decade.
“This is two years in a row that we’ve gotten to go [to nationals], and since I’ve been teaching we’ve gone four times since 2003,” Barber said.
Barber said to make it to the national competition, a team must place in the top five at the state level. PCHS placed second in state this year.
Placing so high means months of hard work, in class and out of class, studying written material for weeks before putting that knowledge to the test in the field. Students must learn to use their senses, Barber said.
They must judge soil based on its texture, learn techniques to decipher the slope of the land (percent change in elevation over 100 feet) without any special tool to do so and then they must determine how viable the land would be to build homes on, to use as farmland or to set up a landfill. They must also be able to determine how various uses of the land will impact the environment over decades. Will farming in the area negatively affect a nearby creek or could another use cause erosion?
These are all elements of the competition, Barber said. He said it also requires a good knowledge of basic engineering. Barber said all of these skill sets could lead students to bright futures.
“Land judging, it can lead kids to great careers,” Barber said.
This is why Barber said he and teaching partner Kevin Bailey, who leads animal science and agriculture mechanics, want to eventually provide honors level courses in agriculture for students at PCHS.
Barber said he believes FFA programs such as the Land Judging team allow students to be diverse in their academic knowledge. He said it sets Polk County kids apart when they go on scholarship interviews.
“I think the biggest thing is we try to have strong expectations for our kids,” Barber said. “Plus, the parents are really great about supporting their students because they know how valuable their kids being involved in these programs can be to their future.”
Sponsors for the team’s trip to Oklahoma included Polk County Farm Bureau, Carolina Farm Credit (Spindale and Hendersonville Offices), Polk County Rural Development, Polk County Soil and Water, Ruff Logging of Sunny View, Stewart Walker-Mill Spring and the Polk County High School Career and Technical Education Program.

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