COLUMBUS, Ohio — First it was the pigs. Then came the chickens. Now, it’s the soybeans.
About eight years ago the Ohio Soybean Council (OSC) partnered with the Ohio Pork Council to provide a virtual tour of a pig farm, allowing school students to talk directly to a farmer to see how their animals are raised. In 2012, the OSC partnered with Ohio State University extension to create ChickQuest, a program that challenges third- and fourth-grade students to use science, engineering and technology to investigate the life cycle of an embryonic egg.
Beginning this spring – again with the help of the OSC – students who have never had a chance to investigate a soybean field will get the chance to do it without having to leave the comfort of their own classrooms. With just a connected computer, webcam and microphone, kids can engage in a Virtual Field Trip to an Ohio soybean farm, and “ride along” with a farmer during planting and harvesting.
“Using live video conferencing technology, the students can see what it takes to produce one of Ohio’s most abundant and versatile crops,” explained Tom Fontana, OSC’s director of research and education.
The children can interact and have conversations with soybean growers while the farmer is actually working in the field. They will be able to ask them about planting, seed germination and management. “The students will understand the challenges farmers face and the decisions they must make,” he said.
According to Fontana, the students should learn about many vital topics, such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs), water quality and nutrient management.
“These new trips help students learn more about soybean production, how they’re planted, how they grow and what benefits they provide,” he said. “Classrooms participating in the program will enjoy a memorable, engaging and fun learning experience that will bring students closer to a soybean farm than ever before.”
Spring virtual trips will focus on planting, with farmers slated to host live conversations with students from equipment in the fields. Elementary kids will learn the basics of planting, germination and life cycles, while conversations with middle- and high-school students will focus on GMOs, soil health and precision agriculture.
Fall virtual field trips will focus on harvesting. Elementary students will learn about combines, equipment and the storage and transportation of soybeans, while older students will learn about global trade, nutrient management and water quality.
The virtual field trips are tailored to specific grade levels, with special attention toward helping teachers meet Ohio education standards. “With budgets and safety concerns curtailing field trips at many schools, this project allows us to being an increasingly rare form of education to a broad spectrum of students across the state,” Fontana said.
“Students will have a chance to ask real questions and get real answers from an Ohio farmer.”
Growers participating in the virtual tour with its live question-and-answer sessions include Allen Armstrong of Clark County and Scott Metzger of Ross County.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to participate in these virtual field trips, as I see it as a chance to help Ohio students better understand agriculture,” Armstrong noted.
The virtual field trips are part of OSC’s larger effort to educate teachers and students about modern agriculture. OSC’s education website at GrowNextGen.org has classroom curriculum, e-learning courses and career videos, all designed to educate the next generation of consumers and generate interest in ag careers.