MILES CITY, Mont. – How healthy is rangeland in Montana and North Dakota? In what way can livestock grazing and plant diversity on the rangelands lead to healthy soils on the Northern Great Plains?

Students in the soils, ecology and rangeland management classes at Miles Community College (MCC), could probably answer those questions better than most.

Kim Gibbs, MCC ag instructor, often takes students outside to look at soils, the ecology and rangeland first hand.

That includes such field trips as monitoring soils under the Terry Badlands, near Terry, and examining rangelands near Brockway. Here, the BLM is improving rangelands by planting shrubs along Cherry Creek to restore a riparian zone.

During range monitoring field trips, students took photos of plants in drought conditions in 2017 and compared them to the good production of plants this year in eastern Montana.

“Production is quite a bit better this year with more and taller plants,” Gibbs said.

This fall, Gibbs drove a bus, taking her students on a field trip to NDSU’s Dickinson Research Extension Center’s range near Manning, N.D. The trip was part of DREC’s “Soil, Crop and Livestock Workshop.”

“We had several different ag degrees represented at the Dickinson field day,” Gibbs said. “These classes overlap because students need to take ecology and soils for several courses leading to different degrees and careers in agriculture.”

Landblom invites colleges

Doug Landblom, DREC beef specialist who coordinated the workshop, invited college students from MCC, Bismarck State College in Bismarck; and Dickinson State University in Dickinson.

“Integrated crop and beef cattle grazing research at DREC focuses on regenerative agricultural research that has the potential to reduce the carbon footprint, while being profitable and protecting the environment through improving soil health,” Landblom said.

Landblom pointed out that many of the students that attended the soil health workshop were “freshman and sophomore students that were relatively new to regenerative, alternative, agricultural production methods.”

“The workshop’s goals were to expose students to new techniques relating to the soil’s microbial abilities and to involve them in hands-on experience in the field seeing first-hand indicators of soil health. There are many soil health indicators,” he said.

Gibbs said the students went outside in the afternoon to investigate the soils at DREC’s ranch.

“Students learned how to use a soil health assessment worksheet to score a soil’s health by rating nine different soil health indicators,” Gibbs said. “The students enjoyed the part of the field day where they saw the fungi underneath the soils at the ranch, saw earthworms in the soil, and learned how cropping is associated with different species of plants.”

Landblom concluded that the learning experience at the field day/workshop was “extremely positive and university instructors (from all three colleges) that used valuable time to attend were very pleased with their student’s reactions.” He plans to invite the students back to next year’s field day.

Exposure to ag careers

Gibbs exposes her students to many different ag careers in her classes, especially in the “Introduction to Agriculture” class.

“We invited a horse chiropractor to come in and he showed them how he realigns a horse,” she said. “We went out to a veterinarian clinic because several ag students were interested in that ag career.”

In addition to traveling to as many workshops as they can, Gibbs has taken her rangeland class to competitions to gain exposure to national ag organizations and a variety of ag professionals.

A couple of years ago, Gibbs took rangeland students to a poster competition at the Society for Range Management’s annual meeting and trade show in Texas.

At that competition, students created a poster that studied how everyday people look at rangelands through what they saw and heard on social media sites. Their poster was called: “Rangelands: What do you see (on social media)?” They placed third in the poster competition.

Not only did the students compete in the poster competition, they were able to meet and interact with professionals in all different kinds of ag careers.

“That exposure was invaluable to them,” Gibbs said.

Internships, field trips, workshops at various, competitions with national organizations all create experiences for ag students at MCC.

Applied ag degrees, transfers

“A majority of the students who came to DREC’s workshop will return to their farm or ranch or are planning to transfer to a four-year ag degree,” Gibbs said.

Those returning to their home farms are most often gaining a degree in applied agriculture, which is more hands-on or production-based.

These students are fortunate in they can choose an animal nutrition, an applied ag class, a biology classes and/or a wildlife class and any other classes they choose to gain the knowledge they need for use on their farm or ranch.

“These students can take more of what they need at MCC to help their farm or ranch,” Gibbs said.

Gibbs said there are several associate in science and associate in animal science degrees offered in the agriculture college at MCC, including equine studies; agribusiness; natural resources and wildlife; wildlife and fisheries biology; animal science-livestock management; animal science-pre-veterinary; ag production; and biofuels. Students can also obtain a certificate in agriculture.

MCC students who want to transfer on to a four-year degree usually go to either Montana State University or Dickinson State University.

With the ag classes, MCC is working on having students intern with the NRCS or at interested businesses and agencies to gain more real-life knowledge.

“We had a student, Kara Novakovich, that recently interned with the NRCS in Jordan, and another student, Tori Ogolin, interned with Fish, Wildlife and Parks,” Gibbs said. “Some of those internships can lead to offers for jobs, which is great for students.”

Novakovich interns at NRCS

Novakovich completed a summer internship with NRCS as a rangeland management trainee. This program is now the primary means by which NRCS hires employees.

“Kara had the opportunity to work closely with private landowners and ag producers that were interested in putting conservation on their ground. She also met with those working in Conservation Districts, the Farm Service Agency (USDA-FSA), specialists from the area and state offices, non-profit employees and other interns,” Gibbs said.

Novakovich performed a variety of tasks in the field, including the completion of range inventories, which involved identifying and clipping plants as an estimate of available forage.

She completed construction checks for different NRCS cost-share programs such as EQIP and CSP, which involved learning how to use a GPS in order to record accurate data. She learned how to identify resource concerns and provide assistance to individuals wanting to address these concerns on their land.

“My favorite part was doing rangeland assessments, which is evaluating a site to determine the status of the natural rangeland resources and vegetation that were present,” Novakovich said.

Oglin interns at FWP

Tori Ogolin recently completed a summer internship with the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, and she is planning a career in wildlife.

“Tori conducted surveys on animal species, which were conducted to see where these species are located and in what numbers,” Gibbs said. The surveys were conducted around Glasgow and Miles City. “Tori was also able to participate in bat netting. During the bat-netting, they would catch the bats in order to weigh them and take measurements.”

Gibbs said the internship was a great learning opportunity for Ogolin.

“I think this internship provided a great opportunity for Tori to have hands-on learning in the wildlife field and learn about what a career with FWP would be like,” she said.

Ag Advancement Center

MCC built the MCC Ag Advancement Center last year, which has a horse arena and classroom space.

Before the Advancement Center was built, ag students did not have dedicated classroom space and the instructors often utilized off-campus facilities and transported students by bus.

Equine students did not have an indoor facility for instruction during the winter months, and they lost valuable instruction time due to inclement weather.

“With the recent construction of the MCC Ag Advancement Center, we anticipate the enrollment in our ag and equine programs to increase dramatically,” said Stacy Klippenstein, president of MCC.

Klippenstein said it showed the commitment to agriculture that MCC and the community had.

“With this facility, we will continue to grow our programs to meet the demands of the region and become the epicenter for ag education in southeastern Montana,” he said. “We are continuing to work on getting a good agriculture program here.”

Klippenstein said it was important to offer opportunities to get ag students involved in clubs like the Young Farmers and Ranchers club.

“It is important to make sure our ag students get involved in different clubs, the community and in the agriculture industry,” he said.

Klippenstein said when students become involved, “they make connections with others and they don’t get homesick as much. Connections are important.

We’re working on building partnerships to help students with careers, organizations and internships.”

MCC demonstrated its commitment to agriculture by storing hay during the drought of 2017 for producers in its area.

“We stored some loads of hay for producers during the drought. Hay was brought in and dropped off here at MCC, and we stored it until they needed it,” Klippenstein said.

Evaluating soils in MCC class

What will happen in the 2018-2019 MCC school year for agriculture students?

“We will be going outside and evaluating rangelands and investigating other areas of soil, ecology, rangeland, and water quality health,” Gibbs said.

They will be discussing rotation programs, grazing systems and looking at the system as a whole.

“We will seeing how each species plays a role in the system,” she said. “We want to keep learning about soil health, such as what we saw at the DREC field day. It is good to go out on field trips because it drives our discussions and we can reference what we saw there.”

Gibbs received her master’s degree in range and animal sciences at MSU and did her research for her master’s on fire and rangeland at Ft. Keogh in Miles City. She is very familiar with rangeland and the ecology in the eastern Montana area.

MCC now has a Young Farmer and Ranchers club and the group is doing competitions.

The Young Farmers and Ranchers club members recently participated in the local Montana Farm Bureau Federation Discussion Meet. The top two finishers were Kaitlin Farver and Kate Rehm.

They will compete at the State Young Farmers and Ranchers convention in November against the other collegiate chapters in Montana.

For more information about MCC and its ag programs, visit www.milescc.edu or contact MCC at 406.874.6100.

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