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Rural Bigelow, Minn., farmer Dusty Neugebauer talks to sixth-graders about corn production during a day of farm tours Tuesday. (Julie Buntjer / Forum News Service)

Minnesota middle school students tour local farms Tuesday

WORTHINGTON, Minn. — More than 200 sixth-graders from Worthington Middle School took a field trip Tuesday to visit a pair of farms north of Worthington, Minn., to learn about crop and livestock production.

Spearheaded by the Nobles County Corn and Soybean Growers, the event’s goal is to provide a connection between kids and the agriculture industry at a time when fewer children are exposed to farm life.

Worthington area farmers Tim Hansberger, Dusty Neugebauer and Matt Widboom led students through the Hansberger and Widboom farms, where they spoke about harvest equipment from combines and grain carts to corn, soybean and livestock production.

The two-hour tours gave kids ample time to ask questions — and answer a few posed by the producers. For instance, do you know how many eggs a chicken lays in a 24-hour period? How about how many pounds of corn make up a bushel? What everyday products might you use that contain soybeans? How much food does a beef heifer eat per day?

Well, the chicken lays one egg in a 24-hour period; a bushel of corn weighs 56 pounds; your soaps and shampoo may contain an ingredient derived from soybeans; and a heifer will eat about 22 pounds of feed per day, which results in an average daily gain of three pounds.

Some questions posed by the students were a little more personal, like how much the combine costs, or how much a farmer makes in a year. Hansberger told one of his groups that his 6-year-old combine, if purchased new today, would be about $300,000 — and that doesn’t include the corn or bean head required to harvest his crops. As for his income, with the current low commodity prices, he estimates he could lose about $100 per acre this year.

Neugebauer, who led students out to the corn and soybean fields on the Widboom farm, said he puts all of his money into his crop by Aug. 15, and it might be November, December or even into the next year before he receives his paycheck.

He told students that planting one soybean seed will result in about 100 seeds come harvest, and that one kernel of corn will produce one ear of corn, which contains about 900 corn kernels. Also on the Widboom farm, students saw a thumb-sized aspirin used to treat a sick beef animal, learned the difference between a barrow and a gilt and pondered aloud whether the two pigs in the pen were married.

Widboom said sixth-graders are a great audience to invite on a farm tour. They’re interested in learning about agriculture, and may already be thinking about careers.

“Agriculture is the largest employer,” he told students, saying people who fly drones over fields, operate barges, work as a veterinarian or are employed at a meat processing facility are all connected to the agriculture industry.

Students on the tour learned a lot of interesting facts about agriculture. Kevin Batres said he learned about different types of corn.

“You have to use popcorn seeds to make popcorn, you just can’t use dry corn,” he said. “And chickens only lay one egg a day.”

“I learned how they shove a pill down (a beef animal’s) throat,” chimed in Natzali Morales.

“And that you plant one seed and it creates a lot of corn and soybeans,” added Laycie Grant.

“It’s as simple as it gets for showing kids where their food comes from,” Widboom said of the farm tours. “It’s important for them to understand they’re living in the heart of farm country.

“Our mission with sponsorship from business partners is to educate the public about how modern agriculture works,” he added.

A year ago, local corn and soybean growers created a video that showed the life of a farmer, from planting to harvest. That video is now shown to students in school before they go on the farm tour.

Widboom said they’d hoped to be able to show students a working combine so they can see how crops are harvested, but it’s too wet yet to get into the fields.