CME Group, 4-H Take a 'Fair' Approach to Teach Commodities

New 4-H display shows how prices are set in the market, which is a start to teaching a key part about food production - how farmers are paid.

Published on: Aug 30, 2013

The science of agriculture involves more than learning the latest in biotech or understanding how a new-tech engine works. The pricing of the products farmers sell is a science all its own that requires understanding. CME Group - owners of the Chicago Board of Trade and the Kansas City Board of Trade - are working to help that process.

Tim Andriesen, managing director of agricultural commodities, CME Group explains that understanding how markets work is important for the future of agriculture. "And we saw an opportunity to teach this information in new ways," he says.

The group has teamed with 4-H to create the Commodity Carnival. It's a game that demonstrates how much farmers spend to create a product and how much they eventually make. CME sponsored a contest to create some way to communicate how commodity markets work. Ohio State University won with a concept that uses the game "pig-linko." That game became the core of the Commodity Carnival, but where would the game be played? How about at fairs?

INPUTS IN DETAIL: Participants in the Commodity Carnival, a program sponsored by CME Group through 4-H, learn about inputs and their costs in a simple game that teaches farm market basics.
INPUTS IN DETAIL: Participants in the Commodity Carnival, a program sponsored by CME Group through 4-H, learn about inputs and their costs in a simple game that teaches farm market basics.

For 2013, the Commodity Carnival traveled to more than 130 county and state fairs to help children better understand how commodities work. "We saw that this game was scalable and could be extended to a lot of places," says Andriesen. "And it's something fun for 4-H kids too."

Game-based tools are powerful for teaching key concepts and this was no different. And in Minnesota, the game didn't just go to a fair, it went to the big fair. For all 12 days of the Minnesota State Fair - one of the largest in the country - the Commodity Carnival was in action.

WORKING THE CARNIVAL: Nicholas Janek, Northfield, Minn., explains the Commodity Carnival rules to participants at the 2013 Minnesota State Fair. Feed your pig, weigh your pig and then see what price you can get on the market.
WORKING THE CARNIVAL: Nicholas Janek, Northfield, Minn., explains the Commodity Carnival rules to participants at the 2013 Minnesota State Fair. Feed your 'pig', weigh your pig and then see what price you can get on the market.

"When we explored the idea of doing this we didn't just want to do it in county fairs," says Dorothy Freeman, director of Minnesota's 4-H program. "We felt that this program could teach children about commodities for all 12 days of the state fair." It's a big commitment since the game must be staffed every day of the fair.

In the first few days of the fair the game was set up in the Swine Barn as 4-H-ers competed with their animals at the fair. It later moved to the 4-H Building where crafts, tech projects and more are on display every year drawing hundreds of thousands to the fair.

LEARNING THE RULES: Nicholas Janeck, left, explains the rules of the Commodity Carnival to Isaac Geiser, New York Mills, Minn. (center right). Isaac was at the display with his cousin, Kale Geiser, Thief River Falls, Minn. (far right) and his sister Shauna (left).
LEARNING THE RULES: Nicholas Janeck, left, explains the rules of the Commodity Carnival to Isaac Geiser, New York Mills, Minn. (center right). Isaac was at the display with his cousin, Kale Geiser, Thief River Falls, Minn. (far right) and his sister Shauna (left).

Here's how the game works. A player gets a plastic egg that represents a single pig. The player fills the egg with key inputs (define) represented by different scraps of paper, and of course feed. Then the 'pig' is weighed to determine how much that "little farmer" has to make per hundredweight to make a profit. The egg is then dropped into a board that looks like a Pachinko game - where dowels bounce the egg from right to left as it drops through the board until it lands in a price slot.

Hit a profitable number and you get a big prize ribbon for your profit. Hit a money-losing slot and you get a participation ribbon; and the volunteer explains that sometimes market forces keep farmers from making a profit on every pig they raise.

"This game shows there is uncertainty in the markets," says Andriesen. "This game shows farmers work to minimize their cost of production, and the reality of the outcome."

Nicholas Janek, working the Commodity Carnival, has showed pigs for 14 years and recently graduated out of 4-H. The Northfield, Minn., student says the carnival "is an excellent education tool."

You can check out more details on the program at the 4-H Commodity Carnival Web page.