The contest is putting new emphasis on an old principle—sustainability of the land. In pre-settlement times, this occurred naturally on Missouri’s grasslands. The heartiness of the native plant species, mixed with benefits provided by the browsing of large herbivores like bison and elk, and the occasional prairie fire, produced a diverse and deeply rooted prairie landscape that provided a self-renewing habitat for a variety of grassland wildlife species.
Settlement brought huge changes to landscapes that had been awash in native grasses and wildflowers. Purposely introduced aggressive exotic grasses such as fescue and lespedeza crowded out native plant species like Indian grass and little bluestem. Large stretches of prairie that had received intermittent grazing from wildlife began receiving regular, and heavy, grazing from domestic livestock. These botanical alterations have been followed by biological changes. Prairie chickens, once numerous enough to be hunted, have almost disappeared from the state. Bobwhite quail, formerly the state’s reigning game bird, have also been in decline. These are only two of the higher profile members of a collection of grassland species that are struggling.
Learning how to balance our dependency on the land with the reliance species of wildlife have on the same turf is the true mission of the Mid-America Grassland Competition.
“I think this contest is great,” said John Tummons, a vocational agriculture instructor, FFA advisor at Linn High School and advisor of the Linn team. “It has a lot of realworld application, whether it be for students who want to farm or students who want to manage wildlife.” His praise echoes what contest coordinators have heard from other teachers, FFA advisors and 4-H leaders who have participated in the event.
“The vocational agriculture teachers who take part in this contest refer to it as ‘the most practical contest that they participate in,’” said Melodie Marshall, a district conservationist for the NRCS and one of the people who has been instrumental in keeping the contest going from its inception in 1991. “It teaches the students information that will be useful to them throughout life, whether they stay in the agricultural field or not.”
One area of the participants’ education involves understanding how warm-season native grasses can mix with cool-season exotic grasses in a complementary forage system that allows herds to feed on high-quality forage longer. By utilizing each type of grass during its prime growing season, livestock owners can keep their herds feeding on high-nutrition forage the entire