A record number of 4-Hers and their families drove to Stafford for the 2022 Kansas 4-H Wheat Expo on Aug. 4 to show off exhibits, test their judging skills and learn more about the local agricultural industry. The one-day was sponsored by the Kansas Wheat Commission, Kansas Wheat Alliance, K-State Department of Grain Science and Industry and many other partners from across the state.
“The Kansas 4-H/FFA Wheat Expo is a great opportunity for youth to showcase their talents and skills in many projects while also focusing on what Kansas is known for–wheat,” said Kelsey Nordyke, Kansas 4-H ag sciences program specialist. “The Expo brings youth from across the state together to compete in three project areas–plant science, food and nutrition and photography–and learn more about this valuable commodity produced in Kansas. The tours throughout the morning are also valuable tool that help promote agriculture and showcase our state’s diversity.”
The Market Wheat Show was open to all 4-H and FFA members. This year’s 56 youth participants brought 96 entries in categories from one-quart jars of clean wheat, yeast rolls, cookies, muffins, wheat photography and wheat educational displays. Of particular note, the event included displays on two youth-led wheat variety plots and their related research. Youth also could submit bin run samples from a 4-H wheat test plot or “adopt a producer” plot to the Kansas State University Milling and Baking Laboratory for analysis and judging.
In addition to the exhibits, all participants could practice their judging skills by ranking classes of wheat, bread and photography as well as identifying common weeds. A separate judging content followed the Kansas State Fair rules for crops judging, exposing many younger participants to this contest.
At the end of the day, judges for each category awarded not only ribbons but also provided oral comments on each category – helping participants improve their projects for the next year.
In addition to the exhibits and judging contest, the event featured three tours of local agriculture. In the field where the crew was hand-picking watermelons, Osborne Fruit and Vegetables detailed the mechanics of their operation that sells cantaloupe, watermelon and pumpkins directly to Walmart. The family starts all their own seeds before planting them in the field. Drip irrigation keeps the plants growing throughout the year, but all of the final product is picked by hand and delivered same day to the store.
Further down the road, Spare Farms markets vegetables to farmers’ markets in surrounding areas. Owner Tim and his mother do all the picking on the operation, which is very labor intensive. Adding high tunnels has helped the family produce food for the market almost all year round. Minimizing spraying and adding flowering plants helps attract beneficial insects that help control bugs that would otherwise eat growing plants.
The final stop was Stafford County Flour Mills in Hudson, which produces Hudson Cream flour. The Kansas 4-H Wheat Expo was among the first to tour Stafford County Flour Mills following an upgrade of their milling equipment. The mill also now features a large-scale mural of its logo featuring a Jersey cow — representing that Hudson Cream Flour is the cream of the crop — which was projected onto the mill at four in the morning and painted like a color-by-number painting. The new equipment allows quality to be monitored six times a minute in addition to increased efficiency in monitoring and extraction.
Stafford County Flour Mills buys 95 percent of the wheat it mills from 15 to 20 miles of its elevators and employs 40 people in the small town of Hudson. The value-added flour produced by the short patent process is sold across the country, as far away as Hawaii for use in the public school system.
The combination of hands-on tours, interactive judging, showcasing wheat-focused exhibits and meeting other 4-H and FFA members from across the state made for a highly successful and educational event in Stafford.
The Kansas 4-H Wheat Expo rotates locations across the state, giving participants even more reason to return each year. Watch the Kansas 4-H website (https://www.kansas4-h.org/events-activities/conferences-events/wheat/index.html) next spring for information on next year’s event.