Envirothon Tests Rangeland Management Skills

5/18/2013 7:00 AM
By Paul Post New York Correspondent

CHARLTON, N.Y. — Ben Kruppenbacher is headed to Montana State University this fall to study agricultural education with a minor in livestock management.

His only regret is not getting a chance to go there in August when the school hosts the 2013 North American Envirothon where kids from throughout the U.S. compete for national honors in a contest that tests them on a current environmental issue.

This year’s topic, Sustainable Rangeland Management, opens young people’s eyes to many of the challenges faced by American farmers and ranchers today.

“It’s a good subject for kids because it involves so many different aspects,” said Jim Calhoun, an Envirothon judge and retired Natural Resources Conservation Service official.

Envirothon teams first compete at the local level, with winners going to statewide contests. New York’s is scheduled for May 30-31 at SUNY Morrisville. Then each state’s best team goes to the North American Envirothon, slated this year for Aug. 9-14 in Bozeman, Mt.

A team from Ballston Spa High School will be headed to Morrisville after winning a local Saratoga County event against seven other groups, on May 7.

Kruppenbacher, 18, is a senior at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School and works on his family’s beef cattle farm, in Charlton, Saratoga County, which gave him a leg up during the oral presentation part of the contest about rangeland management.

In a hypothetical case study, teams had to pretend they were ranch owners applying to government officials for a permit to let their cattle graze on federal lands such as a national park or U.S. forestland.

It was a valuable exercise for kids from non-farming backgrounds, too.

“Setting up an operation like this would be expensive,” said Emily Shea, a senior at Saratoga Catholic Central High School. “It’s far more complicated than I imagined. You’d have to build fences, have irrigation and anticipate all sorts of weather. Plus, there’s transportation costs for moving cattle from place to place.”

Kruppenbacher, relying on experience from his family’s farm, led a detailed presentation, explaining how cattle would be rotated from pasture to pasture to prevent overgrazing, with detailed specifics about the number, type and age of animals in each grouping.

“Our rotational pattern is environmentally friendly,” he said. “You want to make sure the land gets a break. Every field gets a break after two weeks. The grazing period would only be from June 1 to Oct. 28. After that, they’d come back to the ranch for winter.”

A program like this could have side benefits, too, such as educating the community about agriculture by hosting open houses to show how the system works.

His parents, Tim and Laurie, came from agricultural backgrounds and began raising an Australian breed of Angus beef cattle several years ago after moving to Saratoga County from Pennsylvania.

Tim Kruppenbacher works full-time at a large General Electric Co. facility about 20 miles away in Schenectady. Charlton is a rich farming area that provides the rural lifestyle they’re looking for.

The farm hosts local elementary school visits on a regular basis and holds camps each summer for kids.

“I’d like to be an agriculture teacher,” Ben said.

He demonstrated an impressive command of the rangeland subject matter to judges during the local Envirothon competition. Rangeland across the country contributes immensely to a sustainable agricultural economy.

It also provides forage and habitat for domestic livestock and wildlife. Recently there has been increasing demands, especially in the Western U.S., for a variety of rangeland uses, everything from recreation to precious metals and gas and coal exploration.

Rangeland, including cultivated areas of the Great Plains, accounts for 36 percent of all land in the U.S.

Montana alone has approximately 93.2 million acres. Of that, about 31.2 million acres is public rangeland, the type that a farmer or rancher might apply to use for agricultural purposes.

So the contest gives students experience in a real-life situation they might face some day.

“Envirothon helps kids connect class work to the outdoor world,” said Phil Zenowich, a Saratoga Central Catholic High School science teacher and team adviser. “It gets them out of their seats, out into nature to see what it’s really like.”

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