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Ag class takes a road trip

Kayla Strayer/Daily Globe Worthington High School agriculture teacher Cody Dvorak facilitates a video conference between his students and students in McCook, Neb., Tuesday morning at the high school.1 / 2
Submitted Photo Worthington High School ag students make a pit stop to Fort Randall Dam in South Dakota during an educational trip to McCook, Neb., in June.2 / 2

WORTHINGTON -- This summer, several Worthington High School agriculture students visited McCook, Neb., with teacher Cody Dvorak to learn first-hand the variations in farming techniques from one state to another.

They toured the area with McCook agriculture teacher Sarah Knutson and her students. Knutson plans to bring her students to Worthington next summer.

On Tuesday morning, the two classrooms communicated via Interactive Television (ITV), and elaborated on what they learned during the trip.

"Today was an extension of what we did in the summer," Dvorak said. "They learned about irrigation and how some of the agricultural operations and processing are a little different than what we do up here."

Ashley Jansma, a Worthington High School junior, attended the trip and plans to translate her experience into a future career in agricultural finance.

She found the video chat useful because they were able to discuss the similarities and differences of the two areas.

"I think ITVs are a good idea because we can learn about what's going on in the country, and not just focus on small-town Minnesota," Jansma said.

The students chatted about corn production this year, hay prices and the record drought spanning the country.

"This year, no one has had great yields and it's been dry over most of the country," Dvorak said.

"Most of their crops weren't even harvestable (this year)," Jansma noted. "They get insurance money back, but not near as much as what they would (normally) get."

In addition to sparse water conditions, the conversation centered on an "ag-in-a-box" exchange the classes did.

Worthington students sent a box of local commodities to the Nebraska students, and vice-versa.

Chi-Chi's salsa, a can of Green Giant peas, area rocks, a bag of soil and Minnesota sports memorabilia were included in Worthington's box. McCook's box has yet to be received.

Toward the end of the conference, McCook students asked if there were any Nebraska fans in Minnesota. The answer of the Worthington class was unanimous: "No!"

From southwest Minnesota to southwest Nebraska

Two vans were rented for the trek, which took about 10 hours each way. Students paid about $70 a piece, and the local FFA covered the rest, Dvorak said.

Despite the long drive, Dvorak and Jansma said the experience was great.

The group spent about two days touring McCook, visiting farms and learning about different techniques. Students got to see the sand hills of Nebraska and how crops are handled down there, Dvorak said.

"(The students) really learned a lot and gained an appreciation for agriculture in general," Dvorak said. "(They learned) how different things are, even within the Midwest. We grow the same crops, but they can be produced so differently from one area to the next."

One of the main differences between the states is the irrigation systems, Dvorak said. In Minnesota, farmers have tile systems to carry excess water away from crops. In Nebraska, irrigation systems transport water to the crops.

Also, rocks must be picked from Minnesota crops each year, which Dvorak attributed to the glaciers that covered the state.

"In Nebraska, that's pretty foreign because the glaciers never went that far," Dvorak said. "They have pretty sandy soil, so they never have to pick rocks."

Stops made by the group en route to Nebraska included Fort Randall Dam in South Dakota and Bailey Yard in Nebraska, which is the largest railroad yard in the country.

Students were also treated to a dinner and tour of Dvorak's family farm in Nebraska.

"After a long trip, it was nice to get a home-cooked meal," Jansma said.

She enjoyed spending time with the McCook students, and said they still communicate via social media websites.

"It was nice to see what they do differently as teenagers down there," Jansma said, adding she's looking forward to showing them around Worthington next summer.

"(We will) bring them out to a field and show them how nutritious our soil is," Jansma said.

College assignment brought to life

Dvorak and Knutson, both University of Nebraska graduates, came up with the trip idea during a class project. The goal was to show students first-hand the differences in agriculture across the nation.

"We developed this project as something we might potentially do someday," Dvorak said. "Both of us ended up teaching in separate states, so we started the exchange with each other."

They hope to branch out to other states in years to come, Dvorak said.

"What happens agriculturally in one country affects our prices and commodities in this country," Dvorak said. "Although it's not feasible to travel outside of the country, we can get diversity from state to state."

He said the experience was one of the highlights of his first year teaching at Worthington.

"I think it's important for kids to realize agriculture isn't just where we're at," Dvorak said. "It's so diverse across our nation and our world."

Daily Globe Reporter Kayla Strayer may be reached at 376-7322.