Owen Doherty, an eighth grade student from Branson, Colorado, was named National Champion in the 2019 National FFA Agriscience Fair at the 92nd National FFA Convention and Expo, held on Wednesday, Oct. 30 in Indianapolis, Indiana, for his project titled “Blame It on the Rain: A Comparison of Mechanical and Non-Mechanical Rangeland Soil Erosion Control Methods.”
The National FFA Agriscience Fair is a competition for FFA members who are interested in the science and technology of agriculture. It is held each year during the National FFA Convention & Expo and is sponsored nationally by Cargill, John Deere and Syngenta.
To qualify for the National FFA Agriscience Fair, students must be in grades seven through twelve, conduct a scientific research project pertaining to the agriculture and food science industries, and present their findings to a panel of judges with a display and report. All national participants are selected as the state winner at their state agriscience fairs and earn national competition eligibility after being placed in the top 12 within their respective categories.
FFA members compete in the National Agriscience Fair in one of six categories: Animal Systems; Environmental Services/Natural Resource Systems; Food Products and Processing Systems; Plant Systems; Power, Structural and Technical Systems; or Social Science.
For Doherty, the inspiration for his project was something close to his heart - the cattle ranch that has been in his family for six generations. “Our ranch has been in our family since the 1880’s and has lots of mesas and hills that are prone to soil erosion during rainstorms,” said Doherty. “Also, in June of 2018, the Emery Gap wildfire burned 343 hectares of grass, brush, and trees on our ranch, so soil displacement is a concern to us. Some common erosion control methods are effective, but not practical on a large ranch. I tested methods that are realistic to implement on rangeland to learn the best way to control soil erosion.”
“I tested two mechanical methods that are installed using heavy equipment (Trench and Berm) and two non-mechanical methods (Residue Cover and Residue Cover with Animal Impact). Residue Cover is the application of hay or straw over the area susceptible to erosion. Residue Cover with Animal Impact mimics cattle walking on that hay and pressing some of it into the soil with their hooves,” said Doherty.
“A model 35-degree slope was built. Rangeland soil was placed in identical containers, and one erosion control method was installed in each container. Sediment and water runoff were collected and measured after 2.5 cm and 5.0 cm of simulated rainfall. Per 1 cm of runoff, the non-mechanical samples contained the least amount of sediment.”
“This experiment showed that the non-mechanical methods are most effective at reducing soil displacement,” Doherty said. “These methods can be immediately implemented by feeding hay to cattle on hills prone to erosion.”
“This project is important because it has real life application on our ranch, and can be used by other ranchers to reduce soil erosion,” said Doherty.
Winning a national championship was a spectacular accomplishment for the young Branson student. “It was an amazing feeling when I won. I could not believe what had just happened,” Doherty said.
“The best part of Nationals was standing on stage in front of 65,000 people, in the same stadium that Payton Manning played in.”