4-Hers address real farm problem in Ag Innovators Experience Challenge

Students from urban and rural Ohio — united by the common bond of involvement in 4-H — recently worked together to solve a real world agricultural problem through the 4-H Ag Innovators Experience Challenge.

In the program held in the 4-H Center on The Ohio State University campus, groups of 4-Hers worked to engineer a food-distribution system that evenly dispenses soy-based fish food pellets over a mat, which represents a fish farm tank. The 4-Hers were provided with a variety of materials to construct a small-scale fish feeder design to spread real fish food pellets as evenly as possible on the mat.

The simulated activity has real applications on farms because better in-tank food distribution in aquaculture operations means more efficient production and improved farm profitability.

“It is really important for young people to learn to apply engineering skills to real world problems. Today’s challenge is about getting fish to market faster. We think about rate of gain on pigs and cattle, but we don’t always think about rate of gain on fish. This challenge is really about engineering a fish feeder to distribute feed evenly in a tank system so that people raising tilapia or yellow perch can get those fish to market faster,” said Patty House, Clark County 4-H educator. “There are 18 youth at this year’s 4-H camp tech today offered at the Ohio 4-H Center, but there will be 2,000 campers across Ohio participating in the fish farm challenge this year.”

The program is part of the Ohio 4-H Camp Tech Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) program.

“One of the big goals is to inspire kids to want to pursue careers in STEM. We are not graduating enough students to fill the ag jobs that industry is looking for. We are hoping to increase interest in ag careers,” she said.  “This year we were looking for something different. Aquaculture is a growing industry and the only way we are going to increase seafood production is through aquaculture. I know people don’t think of Ohio as a big aquaculture state, but we need to grow it because we consume a lot of seafood and most if it is imported.”

The 4-H Ag Innovators Experience Challenge was sponsored by the National 4-H Council and Monsanto.

“This is a great project because it requires innovation. There is a lot of good discussion going on and they are working together in small teams to come up with the best solution. They will also learn about fish and learn about feed. Some of these challenges may seem simple, but require innovation and teamwork to actually make it work,” said Bob Buehler with Monsanto. “We are excited to be a part of that because we need the next generation of young scientists and engineers to be a part of solving agriculture’s problems. People don’t necessarily think about raising fish on a farm and any time you get young people to understand the opportunities in agriculture it is a good thing.”

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