Rossi corrals Soroco’s first FFA national honor
Kayla Rossi is a fifth-generation rancher, a third-generation Future Farmers of America member, and now, one of nine winners of the prestigious Agricultural Proficiency Award.
Rossi becomes the first Soroco High School student to win the national award and only the second finalist. In 2019, Bailey Iacovetto advanced to the finals.
“It’s overwhelming,” Rossi, a senior, said. “I don’t know how to feel. I can tell you when I first got off the stage, I was still shaking because it was so nerve-wracking and overwhelming. But is was also exciting at the same time.”
This year’s winners of the 2021 Agricultural Proficiency Awards were announced at the 94th National FFA Convention on Oct. 29 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The award recognizes FFA members who, through supervised agricultural experiences, have developed specialized skills they can apply toward their future careers. Students compete in areas ranging from agricultural communications to wildlife management. The participants must keep detailed records, complete an application and go through an interview process.
“It taught me the importance of running a business and the key aspects of animal husbandry skills,” Rossi said of the program that is run through the school’s FFA chapter. “It also taught me what it takes to be put into a situation and learn how to overcome certain areas of that and learn how to actually be an entrepreneur and get over the difficult tasks in your life.”
She advanced through chapter and district contests before winning the state contest in June. That win qualified her for the national competition, where she faced more than 40 other finalists to be named this year’s national winner in diversified livestock production — entrepreneurship/placement.
“This award is one of the oldest ones,” said Jay Whaley, Soroco High School agricultural teacher. “This is Soroco’s first (national winner) and its second finalist.”
Whaley, who graduated from Soroco High School in 1992, took over the school’s agriculture programs in 2010 and stressed the supervised agricultural experiences are key to agricultural education.
“Each of the kids have to do a work-based learning program,” Whaley said. “Based on their work-based learning, they do some paperwork, and then they are judged in a category against other members from all over the nation.”
Students can choose their own path in the program, which includes projects like raising livestock or crops. Students can also take a job that requires work-based learning or start some other type of business.
Whaley said most of the learning takes place behind the scenes.
Students keep track of income, expenses and the challenges they overcame as part of their projects. In January, Whaley makes the students in the program sit down and use the information they have gathered to fill out the proficiency application for the FFA chapter competition, with hopes of advancing to district, state and national events.
“It’s not based upon numbers or animals,” Whaley said. “It’s based on growth and learning. The students have to reflect on what they learned by doing this, and they also have to talk about what their growth has been. That growth can be in numbers, or growth can be in education.”
Rossi ran a livestock operation as part of her entry. The business was based on 100 acres of irrigated pastureland where she raised cattle, sheep and goats. Rossi worked out a labor exchange agreement with her dad where she would work the ranch, and in return, he would finance her feed and medicine for livestock. She also had to irrigate, fix fences, drag hay meadows, monitor livestock and harvest hay on the property.
“I was a little nervous to send it off to Nationals, because diversified livestock production is actually the hardest proficiency area to participate in because there’s over 46 candidates,” Rossi said.
She said she is not sure why she won but believes that the judges were swayed by the adjustments she made when hungry mountain lions and coyotes had started preying on her lambs in the early spring months.
Rossi decided to wean the animals earlier, so she could move them inside the barn to protect them when they were most vulnerable. The move paid off for the young entrepreneur as she was able to reduce her losses and allow the animals to gain weight at the same time. She was able to sell the animals when they were ready and turn a loss into a profit.
“I think it (my award) proves that we have a phenomenal ag program,” Rossi said. “And I also think, like in terms of just knowing that we were able to accomplish something like that, gives us more like a positive thought that it can happen even to the smallest of schools.”
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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