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CSI: Crop Science Investigation

Those TV “detectives” in Miami, New York and Las Vegas solve their murder cases in under an hour’s time with technology that often doesn’t exist, but they couldn’t keep pace with 4-Hers in Clay and Fillmore counties. After all, the crime scene investigators on the CSI shows are actors, while the youth in these two counties are identifying real crop problems and offering some real solutions as part of a special project involving 4-H’ers and FFA’ers.

Their CSI is “Crop Science Investigation,” an educational program started by Brandy VanDeWalle and Jenny Rees, Extension educators in Fillmore and Clay counties, respectively, to create interest in crop science, Nebraska crops, crop end uses, and the pests and other problems attacking crops. The workshops VanDeWalle and Rees conduct in their respective counties also touch on soil and water conservation and careers in agriculture.

At a glance

• Two Extension educators get young people interested in crop science.

• CSI program in Clay and Fillmore counties attracts participants.

• They investigate crop problems and offer solutions.


VanDeWalle started out with five students in 2008 and worked up to a dozen this year. “We work with youth from the fourth grade to seniors in high school on a variety of topics,” says VanDeWalle, a former high school ag teacher.

“I have a passion for working with youth, and I want to get them excited about crops and crop science. In 4-H in our county, most projects involve livestock.”

Adds Rees, who has worked with up to 10 kids at a time, “Ultimately, we want more of our youth to be interested in plants and agriculture in general. I loved learning about plants in my 4-H days.”

Their CSI programs fit in nicely with state and national efforts to attract more youth to agricultural sciences and to take advantage of promising careers in crop sciences.

How often they meet with the students varies. VanDeWalle’s group meets monthly, starting in the classroom, then moving to the field for some real-life learning. She tries to focus on a different topic each year.

They start with the basics, including asking the kids to discover the multiple end uses for the crops grown in their area. Other CSI sessions, according the two educators, involve measuring crop residue, identifying plant diseases and insects, and evaluating plant populations and germination percentages.

Rees says the participants in Clay County are very interested in weed and plant identification and in horticulture. From her first group, one student went on to college and pursued a double major in agronomy and horticulture.

The kids don’t waste time in putting their curiosity and knowledge to work. One of Rees’ 4-H’ers, Jeff Hamburger of Harvard, helps his dad with crop scouting.

VanDeWalle brought the three children of Dan and Lisa Hendrickson of Shickley to a summer field day at the South Central Ag Lab in Clay Center to show farmers what they’ve learned. Amy Hendrickson, who is a junior at Shickley High School, demonstrated how to measure plant populations in corn. She and brothers, Nathan and Caleb, also explained how they help their dad take soil moisture readings to help him schedule irrigations.

Rees points out that some of the students in both groups are nonfarm kids. “That’s rewarding, too, because it shows their interest, and it helps them understand the importance of production agriculture,” Rees says.

You can contact VanDeWalle at 402-759-3712 or Rees at 402-762-3644.

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Field trip: Brandy VanDeWalle, Fillmore County Extension educator, took three of her CSI students to a field day. They are (from left) Nathan, Caleb and Amy Hendrickson, the children of Dan and Lisa Hendrickson of Shickley.

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ENHANCING INTEREST IN SCIENCE: Jenny Rees, Clay County Extension educator, says CSI gets youth more involved in crop science.

This article published in the October, 2010 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.