East Idaho high school students partner on forage research

J.B. Hoge, agricultural teacher at Snake River High School in Moreland, Idaho, shows vegetables in his program's greenhouse. Hoge has agreed to lend the services of his summer agriculture class in helping the Bingham County Soil & Water Conservation District evaluate a broad variety of grass species as potential cover crops and forage for local livestock grazing.

MORELAND, Idaho ­— The Bingham County Soil and Water Conservation District will work with students in a high school’s summer agriculture class to find better grass varieties for area livestock producers.

Snake River High School’s agricultural teacher, J.B. Hoge, started the one-credit summer class about five years ago to give students hands-on farming experience, using both a greenhouse and a small plot near the school.

Chris Dalley, with the conservation district, said his organization will select about five grass varieties to evaluate, believing growers who plant grasses stand to improve their soil health while reducing wind and water erosion.

Dalley’s organization and University of Idaho Extension will contribute seed and financial support to the project, while the students will oversee irrigation, fertilization and evaluation of plant and root growth.

Dalley explained the farm used by the class has a few unused acres, where grasses will be planted this spring to evaluate them for drought tolerance, long-term grazing potential, quick growth after a spring planting, fertility requirements and viability as a cover crop — a term for crops planted primarily for soil-health benefits.

Dalley plans to evaluate species of Timothy, Bermuda, orchard and fescue grasses known to work well in other areas, as well as some popular locally adapted varieties for comparison. He envisions a multi-year partnership with the class.

“This is kind of a trial plot,” Dalley said. “When we see what (grass varieties) will do, we’ll want to take it out from there and go to different farms and ranches and try them on 20-acre to 40-acre parcels.”

Dalley said the district established a relationship with Hoge by supporting an agricultural event his program hosts for area elementary school children.

Three area farmers — Cory Gilbert, Garth Van Orden and Doyal Hawker — lend their time and equipment. They’ve always donated profits from production on the plots — about $2,000 per year — back to the class. Hoge recently used revenue from the class to repair the greenhouse. Leon Anderson, of Crop Protection Services, offers weekly lectures to the class, and his business donates farm chemicals and services.

“We don’t have the equipment, so we can’t do anything without the farmers,” Hoge said. “It’s amazing what they do for us.”

The students raise corn, wheat and potatoes. Hoge said a weather station has been erected at his plots, enabling students to track how temperature and other conditions affect crop development. Students also learn to read chemical labels, study crop diseases and calculate farming costs.

Senior Sierra Benson and her brother, who took the class during the summer, were among about a half-dozen students enrolled from families involved in production agriculture. Benson said her brother plans to eventually take over the farm, but she valued the opportunity to better understand issues affecting the family business.

Gilbert said two of his sons have taken the class, and they learned a lot about important aspects of farming, such as crop fertility requirements.

During the past two seasons, Gilbert has raised a 30-acre pivot of grass for spring grazing about 40 pairs of cattle. He’ll be interested in the results of the class’s experiments with new grass varieties.

“That will be a great asset to the community and myself,” Gilbert said.

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