Photo: Brannon Parker, Tristan Cochran and Lance Adams, Decatur County Cotton STEM delegates, use soil probes for sampling cotton field soil nutrients.
A select group of Georgia 4-H members learned about cotton production and the crop’s global impact as part of a daylong Cotton STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Workshop held on the University of Georgia Tifton campus on Thursday, July 19.
Thirty 4-H members from Georgia’s Ben Hill, Berrien, Brooks, Crawford, Decatur, Echols and Turner counties participated in the pilot project.
Kane Staines, UGA-Tifton microgin manager, coordinated the program with Melinda Miller, UGA Cooperative Extension 4-H program development coordinator for Extension’s Southwest District.
A former Georgia agriculture education teacher, Staines said he learned that many students have little exposure to traditional agriculture and its impact on the world. When he arrived at UGA, he developed a cotton-based curriculum that evolved into this workshop.
“My years in the classroom taught me that the most valuable learning often takes place when the lesson includes a hands-on component. Therefore, every teaching segment of the Cotton STEM Workshop, from cotton entomology to cotton economics, includes a provision for 4-H’ers to participate in a truly experiential activity,” Staines said.
The workshop included a trip to the microgin, where students saw how cotton is processed. They also visited with UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) staff and UGA Extension agents, and they learned about sweeping for insects in fields, fertilizer applications, different soil types and the future of precision agriculture.
“Our goals include educating youth on the importance of cotton as a commodity. We are in Georgia cotton country. We want to increase their knowledge of cotton’s importance in our economy and in the environment versus synthetics,” Miller said. “Those participating today will ideally become ambassadors for natural, cotton-based goods and hopefully develop an interest in careers in agriculture.”
The 4-H members also learned about economics and cotton’s marketability. The cotton marketplace scavenger hunt, orchestrated by UGA Extension 4-H agents Jeri Gilleland (Ben Hill County) and Lynn Davis (Turner County), was a highlight of the day.
“Together with our team of Extension agents, specialists and CAES staff, we are passionate about increasing agricultural literacy by helping 4-H members and the general public realize that agriculture is science, and what we do is a natural tie to STEM education,” Miller said. “We limited the number of participants to 30, which allowed each county agent involved in the planning to bring a small number of 4-H’ers.”
Many of the 4-H students agreed that the workshop was a huge success.
“For DPA (District Project Achievement), I did a talk about soil, so I kind of knew a little bit about it. The talk today (about soil and fertilizer) was very interesting because now I know more,” said Amelia Lee, 12-year-old from Ben Hill County.
Tristan Cochran, 16-year-old from Decatur County added, “I’ve learned a lot, the workshop has been really good. I’ve learned a lot about diseases. I knew cotton had diseases but I learned a lot about the different types of diseases. That was really interesting.”
Staines and Miller hosted a similar workshop in November that offered a more limited, half-day experience.
Miller hopes to offer a two- or three-day camp experience in the future to target youth in seventh through 12th grades.
“I am excited to work with Melinda and others on the execution of the Cotton STEM Workshop,” Staines said. “I am confident that this and similar partnerships will pay dividends in terms of educating youth and the general public on the value of consciously choosing natural products over synthetics.”
To learn more about Georgia’s cotton crop, go to https://t.uga.edu/4h5. For more about the Georgia 4-H program, go to georgia4h.org.
(Clint Thompson is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences based in Tifton.)