Australian Team Competes at Northeast

Published on: April 27, 2018

A medal and a pat on the back were what three Australian agricultural science students said they expected after emerging as the top judging team in a national crop competition.

Danyon Williams, Nick Grant and Tom Jeffery later learned the championship included an expenses-paid trip to the 2018 North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA) Judging Conference. This year’s event was recently hosted by Northeast Community College in Norfolk, Nebraska.

That’s 8,850 miles from Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia, where the young men are fourth-year students. Last September they won the Australian Universities Crops Competition sponsored by the country’s GrainGrowers Ltd.

The organization, which represents 17,000 Australian grain producers, sponsored the students’ U.S. travels. Its chairman, John Eastburn, and another staff member accompanied the students on what would be a two-week stay in the U.S.

The 2018 NACTA Judging Conference drew approximately 840 students from 42 U.S. colleges and universities and Charles Sturt University, said Mike Roeber, president of the NACTA Coaches Association. He is the livestock judging coach and an ag instructor at Northeast.

Kyle Cleveland (left), process relief operator at Louis Dreyfus Company north of Norfolk, leads a tour of the ethanol production plant. The tour group included Australian students Danyon Williams (from left), Tom Jeffery and Nick Grant, as well as a student from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. They were among approximately 840 students who competed in the 2018 North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture Judging Conference recently hosted by Northeast Community College in Norfolk. Louis Dreyfus was among eight Norfolk-area industries and agriculture operations that offered tours during the conference. (Courtesy Northeast Community College)

The conference featured 13 contests, with the three Aussies vying in the soils and crops contests. A major challenge for them during the contests, they said, was converting their country’s metric system to the U.S. customary system.

Prior to their arrival in Norfolk, Grant said the Australian delegation spent several days at Iowa State University and Kansas State University where he and his teammates received a crash course in crops and soils judging, respectively.

Williams said he has enjoyed meeting other students while traveling and at the NACTA conference, “and seeing how big agriculture is here and how big the conference competition is.”

The Midwest, he said, has “much more productive land and better soils,” with Australia challenged by limited rainfall and arable land. Jeffery said that while farmers in the Norfolk area are beginning to plant corn and soybeans, Australian producers are starting to sow wheat and canola.

Eastburn said highlights during his U.S. travels include meeting people and seeing firsthand the value of Midwestern land-grant universities, a concept he’d like to see developed more in Australia.

Chuck Steiner, an agribusiness professor at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, described the NACTA conference as “great, well planned and organized.” He added that he was impressed with Northeast’s Agriculture Department and its ag facilities.

Among those making the seven-hour drive from southwest Wisconsin to Norfolk were 12 Platteville students. The four-member Platteville agribusiness team joined the Australians in touring the Louis Dreyfus Company one afternoon. The ethanol plant was among eight Norfolk-area industries and ag operations offering tours to NACTA conference participants.

Steiner said the benefits of the NACTA conference are two-fold. “It allows the students to network with other students and get to learn about ag industries in other parts of the country,” he said.

Also, “students like to compete … to test their knowledge” against other students, Steiner said.

Bryant Biskup of Orleans, NE, was among the University of Nebraska-Lincoln students competing at the conference. The agronomy major plans to return to his family farm and also custom farm.

He said he sees the contests as “a really good networking opportunity. It’s a good way to tie all of your agronomic classes together in an applicable way.”

Jeff Bradford, a graduate student and the crops coach at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN, was among 11 students and three faculty members who made the 11-hour drive to Norfolk. He said he was impressed with the Chuck M. Pohlman Agriculture Complex on campus where some of the contests were conducted.

Bradford said he saw Northeast as “a nice, small, compact facility,” which lends itself to “a more family-like experience.”

The value of events like the NACTA conference, he said, include “networking and visiting with students from different universities and colleges, which create friendships and networks that will benefit them down the road.”