Two Crow Wing County 4-H teams, along with 10 other teams from across Minnesota, recently competed in the 4-H Science of Agriculture Challenge at the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus by presenting their research and solutions for important agriculture-related issues.

The first of its kind in the country, the new program is part of an effort to create excitement about agriculture and expand the pipeline of youth studying agriculture and pursuing agriculture-related careers.

The Agriculture Challenge named the top three teams, which did not include the two Crow WIng County teams. First place went to Meeker County 4-H Hay Waste Team; second place, Washington County 4-H Insects as Food Source Team; and third place Le Sueur County 4-H Biodiesel Team.

Two teams from Crow Wing County participated in the challenge were:

• The Crow Wing County 4-H Buffer Zone Team consisting of Rachel Danielson, Kirsten Schroer, Lydia Halbach and Zach Struffert summarized its 4-H Science of Agriculture Challenge research was buffer zones.

• The Crow Wing County 4-H Methane Team consisting of Arica Caughey, Simon Nelson, Emelia Hinrichs and Madeline Hinrichs summarized its 4-H Science of Agriculture Challenge research on methane digesters.

4-H asked teams of Minnesota youth to identify agriculture-related issues in their communities and develop science-based solutions. Over the past nine months, the youth worked with adult mentors and agriculture experts to identify their issues and develop their solutions using science and engineering practices. The 4-H'ers shared their results which included judging presentations, interviewing and resumé-building workshops, campus tours to explore agriculture and science resources at the university, and a showcase fair and recognition celebration to share their work and connect with representatives from the university and agribusiness community.

The buffer team's research was on protecting the waterways with native plants. Crow Wing County has 760 waterways and a buffer zone is a protected area along the waterway to help keep fertilizer, phosphates and sediments out of the waterway. Buffers can prevent 50 percent or more of nutrients and pesticides from entering in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In order to protect waterways, the team decided to study the effects of native plants and turf grasses in a buffer zone. The team found native plants absorb more phosphorus than turf grasses when planted in a buffer.

The methane team's research was methane digesters. A local poultry processor currently composts offal and the team looked at how to utilize the methane as an energy source. The team reviewed the existing technology on methane digesters and experimented. Their research included how much methane comes from poultry offal, options to capture and utilize the methane, total production of energy possible from the processing facility, and economic viability of the system. From this information we will provide recommendations to the processor on system design, energy utilization, and economic considerations including upfront investment, return on investment, and long term profitability.

This year's 4-H Science of Agriculture Challenge was made possible by sponsorship provided by the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, the Minnesota Farm Bureau, AgStar Financial Services and the Minnesota Soybean Research Council.