Clear Lake FFA members get into the combine and learn about the harvest

CLEAR LAKE, Iowa (AP) – More than 20 light-eyed FFA students from Clear Lake High School climbed atop Charlie Norris’ combine for a group photo earlier this month.

All Norris had to say was, “Be careful.” About five times.

No student lost a leg or limb and the photograph was taken. The young learners were on the Clear Lake FFA’s 20-acre corn lot just east of the Mason City Motor Speedway on the fairgrounds to learn about agricultural production.

Norris, along with his wife Louise, donated the planting and harvesting equipment for the second-year program. Seeds were donated by Muff Ag Services and the land was provided free of charge by the North Iowa Fairgrounds.

The grain is shipped to Golden Grain Energy in Mason City and Clear Lake FFA receives the profits.

“We’re using it as one of our two main fundraisers for the year,” Elisa Russ-Poggemiller, adviser to the FFA, told the Mason City Globe Gazette.

Proceeds are used for travel to national and state conventions, FFA blue jackets, scholarships, competitions and other activities.

Charlie Norris said he and Louise became involved with the FFA because of their daughter, Jennifer Cash, who died in 2019. Cash was instrumental in establishing Clear Lake’s FFA program.

“Our commitment is a kind of legacy for them. She was very passionate about it, and so are we,” he said. “Our youth need to learn more about farming and some of these youth will be involved in farming.”

The Norrises still farm land between Mason City and Clear Lake, but most students live in the city.

“We have a lot of students who don’t come from a farming background and don’t have the opportunity to experience what manufacturing plants are like,” said Russ-Poggemiller. “So if I bring them here for just one day, I hope they’ll learn more about where their food comes from and what it takes to actually grow the crops and tend the land.”

The students had the opportunity to ride in the combine harvester during the harvest. Charlie Norris pointed out that the technology used today is much more advanced than it was when he first started farming decades ago. Today’s combines can essentially drive themselves, record yield, measure moisture and map the crop in real time.

“Nowadays there is a lot of nice technology in the equipment. Much better than the equipment when I started,” he said.

His equipment can harvest about 15 acres per hour.

Junior Alexis Hauge attended last year’s harvest. She said that you can only learn so much in a classroom. Hauge said it’s important for Iowa’s youth to understand what drives business and culture.

“I think it was a really great experience for the students. I didn’t grow up on a farm, so it’s really great for people like me to be out here and learning about this part of farming,” she said. “If you look at Iowa’s economy and what Iowa is based on, it’s agriculture. It’s really great.”

During a round table discussion after lunch, the students were able to speak and ask questions to experts from different fields of agriculture. They were able to learn all about agribusiness from Pat Goedken, senior vice president of Clear Lake Band & Trust, and Amy Fleming, community and internal communications coordinator for Sukup Manufacturing, about agribusiness.

Russ-Poggemiller said the roundtable is an opportunity for students to learn that there are jobs directly related to agriculture that may not require ever setting foot in a field. Hauge said she is considering pursuing a marketing degree in the agricultural sector. She said she hopes to have her associate degree in marketing by the time she graduates from high school.

“It really opened doors with career paths,” she said. “I think that’s definitely something I’d like to explore further.”