When you think about FFA, images of blue jackets, livestock showing and judging, public speaking and leadership may come to mind. Chances are rice is not among those.
But the long-running Ruben Stringer Memorial Texas Rice Education Contest is designed to spark FFA students’ interest in the Texas rice industry east of Houston, says Mike Broussard, a vocational agriculture teacher and FFA adviser at Hamshire-Fannett High School.
“We’ve had students in this contest who are actually farming rice today,” he says. “It’s probably not because of the contest, but it’s kept some interest.”
He also had another student from a non-ag background who was determined to begin farming rice because of the competition.
The contest is conducted in partnership with Texas AgriLife Extension and Research. Currently, Mo Way, a Texas A&M rice entomologist, works with high school voc-ag teachers and oversees the contest each year. Before him, Arlen Klosterboer, a now-retired Texas A&M rice weed scientist, helped.
Each year, students are told which area, such as weeds, insect pests or diseases, the contest will cover so they can study. They also need general rice production knowledge, which is contained in educational materials prepared by Texas AgriLife.
For the contest, students may be handed a vial that contains an insect and asked to write down the pest’s name. In another part, students are asked to determine whether grains of rice in a Petri dish are short, medium or long grain.
The contest is held in conjunction with the Texas Rice Festival in Winnie. Judging is conducted the Tuesday before, with the winners announced during the festival weekend each October.
Amanda Duplechin, a Hamshire-Fannett student, has participated in the contest for four years, having won the individual title the past three years. Although she grew up on a livestock operation, she had no exposure to rice production before signing up for the contest as a freshman. Duplechin says her competitive nature prompted her initial interest, and she continued because she excelled in it.
Now a high school senior, she plans to enlist in the Army after graduation to become an animal care specialist. Duplechin says the contest has taught her many valuable lessons, including how to stay focused.
“After winning the first time and definitely the second time, you start getting a bit cocky,” she says. “But you have to keep studying because there’s someone out there who could easily beat you. Trying hard to find better ways to study is definitely a key thing you could take away from this.”
The “Rice Education Contest Study Guide” is available for free download from the Beaumont Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center, https://bit.ly/2ROQkIU.