Area youth present innovative ideas during AgOvation finals

Friday, September 3, 2021
AgOvation participants are, from left to right, Levi Steinkamp, Kaydon Erpelding, Zach Erpelding, Riley Walker, Joslin Gourley, Siri Amuluru and Ananya Balaji.

Teams of 4-H youth from four Iowa counties showcased their hard work and entrepreneurial spirit during the third annual AgOvation program finals on Aug. 21.

AgOvation is a research-based competition that challenges youth to explore and develop innovative science-based solutions to agricultural problems that they identify in their own communities. Youth in grades 7-12 work in teams to develop a project and create a presentation to share their results in a Shark Tank type experience at the Iowa State Fair.

AgOvation participants were asked to design a solution to a local agricultural problem and pitch their ideas to a panel of expert judges. Expert judges this year were Mark Licht, Iowa State University agronomy professor; Danelle Bickett-Weddle, lead public health veterinarian for ISU Veterinary Medicine; and Justin Chapman from the ISU Department of Animal Science.

Second-place winners, Riley Walker and Joslin Gourley, present their ideas on fair biosecurity and animal welfare at the 2021 AgOvation Finals.

The first-place team, Siri Amuluru and Ananya Balaji from Story County, presented their work on an environmentally friendly replacement for plastic mulch, because plastic mulch is burned when discarded and is not recyclable.

“We have learned so much and had an awesome time,” Ananya Balaji said. “We look forward to repeating this experience in the future.”

The second-place team of Riley Walker and Joslin Gourley from Hamilton County presented on biosecurity and animal welfare at the fair.

“It’s our first year in AgOvation and we have learned a lot through the project,” said Riley Walker. “We want to thank the experts who helped us along the way as well as our county youth coordinator, Brynna Baumhover. We learned the importance of informing the community about agriculture and how to work as a team to solve a problem facing agriculture.”

The third-place team included Zach Erpelding from Cherokee County, and Kaydon Erpelding and Levi Steinkamp from Sac County. They developed a plastic cover that attaches to a spade to protect underground utilities while digging. The spade cover prototype was developed in partnership with Lundell Plastics from Odebolt, Iowa.  

“We have all done this for three years,” said Kaydon Erpelding. “We like coming up with an idea and products to improve agriculture and the way it operates.”

The top three teams at the final competition received college scholarship prizes. The first-place team received $4,000, second place was awarded $3,000 and third place received $2,000. The AgOvation program helps develop the future workforce of agricultural scientists, engineers and technologists. Participants gain important life skills that empower them to become productive citizens, outstanding communicators, effective leaders and successful learners.

“This program provides an opportunity for youth to work with a team coach and mentor from the agriculture related field that most closely relates to their project,” said Maya Hayslett, 4-H youth program specialist with ISU Extension and Outreach. “Youth are also encouraged to connect with representatives from Iowa State University and the agribusiness community, who are eager to meet and work with the next generation of leaders in agriculture and STEM.”