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DSU ag freshmen look to the future

DICKINSON, N.D. -- This year's crop of Dickinson State University freshman agriculture majors are looking forward to beginning their own adventure in farming and ranching.

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From left, Abby Reidle, Aspen Lenning, Breanna Miller, Michelle Fitterer and Trey Fischbach represent just a small portion of this year's incoming freshman class in the ag program at Dickinson State University. (Iain Woessner/Forum News Service)

DICKINSON, N.D. - This year's crop of Dickinson State University freshman agriculture majors are looking forward to beginning their own adventure in farming and ranching.

"I want to eventually own my own farm and ranch," Abby Reidle said at an outdoor picnic Aug. 23 to help celebrate the start of a new school year. "I really loved the cattle on my ranch. That's what I grew up with and that's my passion."

Just about every one of the freshman at the picnic came from a farming background; either they grew up in farming communities or on family farms and ranches. Many of them hoped to gain useful skills and ultimately take over the work their families have been doing for generations.

"I want my kids to grow up on a ranch, because I just love the atmosphere for kids and stuff," Michelle Fitterer said. She is focusing her studies on business in agriculture, and an integral part of good business is about adopting best practices - and embracing change when it's needed.

"I grew up on a farm and ranch. We grew up cattle and we grew crops, and my dad tells me stories about how they'd plant their crops and it's way different than now," Fitterer said. "It's changing all the time and you just have to keep up with it so you get the most out of your land."

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"(Agriculture) is a thing that's been happening for thousands of years and so I don't really see it as a big deal because it has been changing for so long," Aspen Lenning said. "I suppose change is the only constant we have."

She said a key to success would be to respect new ways of thinking when it comes to farming.

One thing that ignited the students' passions was the subject of genetically modified organisms.

"I feel like we've got to end this non-GMO thing," Trey Fischbach said. He is focusing on soil sciences in hopes of becoming an agronomist. "Every crop we have is genetically modified. Like bananas for instance, naturally-grown bananas have big giant seeds in them, but over the years we selectively bred bananas to not have seeds anymore. This bologna that there's a problem with GMOs ... everything is genetically modified, cattle are genetically modified. That's what you do, you breed things together to make them better."

All of the freshmen agreed there seems to be a disconnect between the demand for high-priced organic products, and the realities and challenges involved in actually growing those products.

"We have some people who organic-farm, and I don't really agree with it or think it's a good idea because ... if you're next to a farm that's organic vegetable farming then you can't spray ... if it drifts into their field you could get a lawsuit against you," said Ethan Wright. "It ruins the soil conservation, because they have to cultivate so many times and the erosion is so bad. You drive past a field of soybeans, and the weeds are way taller and the soybeans aren't getting the sunlight they need ... in the end ... I don't really think it's worth it."

Fitterer echoed that frustration. She said trying to keep to the strict guidelines of organic farming can be detrimental to other farmers.

"Invasive weeds spread to ... your neighbors and then it's harder to control," Fitterer said. "It bothers me when there's invasive plants and guys are haying it and then they move those bales to other places and the seeds get dropped there and ... it just bothers me that people don't go out and spray their invasive plants."

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Another new fad is to abstain from vaccinating cows or using antibiotics on poultry. Fitterer said this results in people consuming less-healthy meat.

"Antibiotics, most of them have a 60- or 45-day withdrawal ... so it's out of their system by the time you can slaughter them," she said. "You're getting healthier meat."

They all chose DSU over other universities for different reasons. Wright wanted to pursue rodeo, and found DSU offered the best bang for his buck.

"I mean, I'm already going broke going to school, so I may as well have fun doing it," he said.

Breanna Miller wanted to attend a school that offered a more close-knit community - and one with familiar faces.

"I want to be able to go home on the weekends," Miller said. "Half the people in the ag program I graduated high school (with), so that's nice. Education-wise you get more one-on-one time with your teacher so you understand everything fully. Everyone here is so warm and welcoming. I'm used to a small town feel."

Most of the freshmen saw themselves in five years or so working and making money and acquiring skills to help them run their family farms. Lenning, though, had a dream that spoke to the need to bridge the gap between farmers and the world they feed.

"I want to be an extension agent. Those are the people who work in the public eye ... the politics in general, I think everybody has their right to their opinion," Lenning said. "If you see the benefits of organic, that's great, I'd just highly encourage people to go out and see what farmers are doing today."

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