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It's all a part of the plot: Sauk Ag program completes first harvest

DIXON – As ag students fired up a combine and harvested their first crop of corn and soybeans, Sauk Valley Community College became a fully functional farm.

The crops were planted in the spring as part of the school’s new and rapidly growing agriculture program, designed to train the next generation of farmers and agribusiness professionals.

Each of two student-lead teams spent the semester focused on each of two fields.

Courtney Rogers, 20, and Jenny Pratt, 43, both of Dixon, and Jarrett McNinch, 18, of Rock Falls and Derek Bush, 18, of Morrison, made the cornfield their priority.

They learned how to test factors that affect yield, such as soil properties, nitrogen and water levels, and predicted they would see a yield of about 130 to 140 bushels per acre.

“We made our estimate using yield, water and nitrogen testing and using other factors like weather and the amount of deer that feed on the corn and knock down the stalks,” Bush said.

The field’s location near the Rock River meant good water levels, and a favorable season made for a bigger-than-expected harvest.

“We got about 165 bushels per acre out of this two acre field,” Rogers said.

Every bushel counts when it comes to profits.

“Were going to make about $570 on this field when we take the current price of corn per bushel and multiply it by our acres and how many bushels we have,” Rogers said.

The same went for Team Soybean: Nathan Merema, 20, of Chadwick, Sierra Harris,18, of Franklin Grove and Nick Baker, 22, of Rock Falls.

October’s heavy rains made for higher moisture levels in the soybeans, which pushed back the original harvest date a few weeks. They brought in Tom Fehlhafer, a Cornelius seed specialist, to look the crop over, and he gave them the green light to harvest.

“Grab a pod, squeeze the side and open it up, then pop a bean in your mouth. You want beans that you’re going to be able to chew because they have a bit of moisture in them,” said Fehlhafer, 60, of Princeton.

The yield: 80 bushels and acre, exceeding their expectations of 45 bushels.

“This field has never been planted before. It was an old soccer field, and there wasn’t really any wind damage,” Harris said.

It will bring in about $2,700 in pure profit for the program, since Cornelius donated the seeds.

That money will be invested back into the fields for the next harvest season and future projects.

“The money will definitely help buy more seed and other harvesting equipment,” Anderson said.

He’s also going to introduce goats in a 5-acre area for a rotational grazing program.

“We plan to raze the prairie next to the corn field for the upcoming animal sciences class,” Anderson said. The course, opening in the summer, will be open to all Sauk students and area high school students interested in learning what it takes to raise animals on a farm.

It’s another method Anderson is using to enhance hands-on learning at the college, and students are taking note.

“It’s the whole process, from start to finish,” Baker said.

“I like the way Dr. Anderson teaches his classes, because I’m a hands-on learner and its better to practice it in real life than just read in a book or see in a presentation.”

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