Minnesota Soybean Business

Checkoff education: Farmer leaders invest in the future

January-February 2021

A fortuitous meeting with a Minnesota Soybean staff director led to Southwest Minnesota State University (SMSU) earning its first checkoff-approved research project.

In summer 2019, SMSU sent out invitations and encouraged producers to come out to its inaugural field day to see the latest developments with their trials. One of the people who accepted the invitation was Dr. David Kee, director of research with the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC).

During the field day, Gerald D. Toland, Jr. a professor in the Agriculture, Culinology and Hospitality Management (ACHM) Department at SMSU, sparked an idea from a conversation with Kee.

“I had the chance to sit down with David,” Toland said, “and he was kind of the one that put the idea in my head: ‘You know what SMSU does best is produce students that go out into industry,’”

The two discovered there was a need to help enhance students’ education by helping them prepare for the certified crop advisor (CCA) exam.

“We support a lot of research. Cutting edge research. Hard to understand research,” Kee said. “It takes people with a certain level of education such as CCA’s to explain results to farmers.”

After further discussion, Kee suggested that Toland submit a grant proposal to MSR&PC that would set up a program with workshops and materials for students to get them familiar with what to study in order to pass the CCA exam. Toland heeded Kee’s advice.

The grant was brought to the MSR&PC board of farmers. The directors were intrigued by the idea and approved the proposal.

“The Council was pleased to sponsor this project and invest checkoff funds in the next generation of agricultural professionals,” said MSR&PC Director Kris Folland, who chairs the organization’s research action team.

‘Meeting a high standard’

After receiving checkoff funds for his proposal, Toland and his team of colleagues spent the summer of 2020 researching materials for the students to utilize to study for the exam.

One of the resources they purchased with the grant money was a practice exam manual called “Preparing for the 2019 International Certified Crop Advisor Exam,” which is published by the International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI).

Gerald Toland is professor of Agribusiness Management & Economics at Southwest Minnesota State University. He’s been with SMSU since 1990.

They have been using the manual to look at the topics covered in the CCA exam and incorporate them into their classes.

“We have a course on crop production and a course on pest management,” Toland said. “Those are two big areas for the CCA exam. Since we have known what is important since the beginning, we have adjusted some of the content for our courses, so we are touching all those topics to help the students get ready.”

Aside from class materials, the program incorporated workshops for the students to attend and utilize for the CCA exam.

The two-day fall workshop, organized and scheduled by SMSU Agronomy Professor Sam Tutt, encompassed many of the topics that would be covered on the exam.

The first day, Tutt and his colleague, Agronomy Professor Adam Alford, conducted a workshop about pest management and crop management.

The second day SMSU Environmental Science Professor Tom Dilley and Jacob Hicks, a crop consultant for Bayer and an alumnus of SMSU, shared their knowledge and expertise in soil management and soil fertility.

The workshops attracted seven students.

“They are recognizing they are going to have to study hard because the exam is tough,” Tolland said. “In other words, it is meeting a high standard, and they are going to have to ready for the test.”

Training the next generation

Aside from the success of drawing in seven students to study for the CCA exam, student awareness of the certification has increased.

“I would say before the semester started when we would use the three letters CCA students would have a deer-in-the-headlights-type of look,” Toland said. “Now they know what it is and why it is important.”

Another success of the program has been its work alongside Minnesota Certified Crop Advisors (MCCA) Organization.

SMSU joined a conference call with the MCCA board to explain the goals of the MSR&PC-funded CCA educational proposal. The MCCA Board made and passed a motion in support of the educational efforts.

Afterwards, MCCA reached out to SMSU to set up a separate exam date for their students to take the test.

As they get closer to the exam date scheduled for April , SMSU plans to conduct refresher workshops for the students and continue incorporating CCA exam content in their courses.

“In the long run,” Toland said, “if we have this next generation of students become certified, then producers are going to benefit with basically having a person that is professionally prepared to provide the right kind of advice to be able to work with producers on a one-on-one basis.”


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