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This fall, five outstanding Department of Agriculture students participated in the AgYield 2017 Intercollegiate Marketing Challenge from October 10th through November 15th. Over the course of this 36 day challenge, seniors David Beeler, Libbie Goble, Kody VanDyke, Stephanie Hartke, and Jacob Styan, completed an online commodity marketing challenge in which they managed a simulated grain farm. In this challenge, every 24 hours was one week in a growing season, which took the farm from pre-planting in early spring to harvest in the fall.

Department of Agriculture’s Dr. Maria Boerngen advised the students through this challenge.

“These five students were enrolled in AGR 324 (Commodity Futures and Options) in spring 2017,” Boerngen said. “We used the AgYield simulation as a class project in that course, and I selected and invited these specific students to participate in the fall challenge based on the analytical and critical thinking skills they demonstrated during the class simulation last spring.”

“(The AgYield challenge) gave our team a clear understanding of how the farming industry works.” -Kody VanDyke

For senior agribusiness major and Raymond, Illinois native Beeler, this challenge was just the experience he needed before graduating. As one of the two AgYield team members graduating this December 2017 (Libbie Goble the other), this was the final piece of the educational puzzle for Beeler.

“The AgYield challenge taught me how to market grain for a farm of approximately the same size as what I will return to when I get home,” Beeler said. “I now understand in greater depth what to look for (in the market) and how to understand the market to make the most educated decisions for my family farm.”

Boerngen added, the way the challenge worked is that “they marketed their grain through a combination of cash market transactions (forward cash contracts, basis contracts, hedge-to-arrive contracts), and futures market transactions (hedging with futures or options), just like farmers do in the real world,” she explained.

Beeler, Goble, VanDyke, Hartke, and Styan were competing against teams from Iowa State, University of Arkansas, University of Nebraska, and Fort Hays State University. Each team managed an identical, 2,500-acre corn and soybean farm where they received the same reports that farmers manage everyday such as: per-acre yield projections for their own farm and their county, weather forecasts, world supply and demand estimates, crop conditions reports, and export sales reports, just to name a few. Beeler, Goble, VanDyke, Hartke, and Styan were then responsible for using their knowledge of market fundamentals, and how the information would impact crop yields and prices, to determine how they would market their grain.

“These students were always the ones to make the decisions and implement them.” –Dr. Boerngen

VanDyke, a senior agronomy management and agribusiness double major and Louisville, Illinois native, felt the challenge of being faced with the uncertainty that farmers experience in the real world was an eye opening experience.

“We were responsible for following the market and paying close attention to the reports that were given to us to make the best possible decision,” VanDyke said. “This challenge allowed us to be faced with the same uncertainty that farmers are faced with in the real world, which gave our team a clear understanding of how the farming industry works.”

Although the team finished third place, they were not far off from second and first. In the simulation, the farm production was worth over $1.6 million. Boerngen’s team finished only $22,000 from second place and $55,000 from the first place team. What was even more impressive was the difference between their third place finish and the rest of the pack. The Redbird team completed the AgYield challenge beating the University of Arkansas by nearly $405,000 and the fifth place Iowa State team by approximately $802,000. Thus, Boerngen and her five students who competed in this challenge are prideful and excited about their elite finish.

“The challenge provided them with an additional opportunity to apply what they had learned in class and connect that knowledge to real-world on-farm decision making,” Boerngen explained. “We met on a weekly basis during the challenge, where we reviewed marking strategies, discussed market fundamentals, and brainstormed ideas on how to respond to the information the simulator was throwing at us. Although we discussed topics as a team, these students were always the ones to make the decisions and implement them.”

Hoopeston, Illinois native and senior agribusiness major, Goble is thankful for the opportunity to participate in the AgYield challenge and for the encouraging and supportive environment in the Department of Agriculture. Goble, who is graduating in December 2017, just accepted a job as a retail banker with Heartland Bank and is excited to apply her well-rounded education in the workplace.

“(The AgYield challenge) forces you to focus on what other people think is important rather than just what you think.” – Jacob Styan

Not only were Beeler, Goble, VanDyke, Hartke, and Styan all full time seniors, but each one of them successfully maintained a healthy and strong school/work-life balance while also producing superb results in the AgYield challenge. Each member of the team agreed that handing all the pressures was made easier due to the support and guidance of their peers and their advisor, Dr. Boerngen.

“It is about finding a balance. Everybody helped everybody else. It was a collaboration among all five of us,” Styan said.

Hartke added, “It helped me that everybody was so supportive, understanding, and respectful of everybody’s time and lives.”

Hartke, an agronomy management and agribusiness double major and Litchfield, Illinois native, wasn’t sure of her future career path but credits the AgYield challenge with guiding her in that direction.

Hartke explains, “Before this challenge, I was unsure if I wanted to go into merchandising and now I am leaning towards that career field. I hope to return to my family farm and use my knowledge and experience to expand our farm’s potential.”

Senior agribusiness major and Sadorus, Illinois native, Styan isn’t completely done at Illinois State. Styan is planning to continue his education and pursue a master’s degree in Agribusiness here at ISU. He plans to use his experience and knowledge from the AgYield challenge to guide his graduate career.

“This challenge is all about teamwork. It teaches you to listen to what your peers are saying and forces you to focus on what other people think is important rather than just what you think,” Styan said.

“It has been my privilege to advise them, and I can’t wait to see how their futures unfold.” -Dr. Boerngen

For Boerngen, this is the third AgYield Intercollegiate Challenge team she has advised and plans to continue to do so each time the AgYield company offers the opportunity. The AgYield simulator is an exercise used in Boerngen’s AGR 324 course every spring semester, which helps her decide which students to invite to participate in the official AgYield challenges. Boerngen is incredibly proud of Beeler, Goble, VanDyke, Hartke, and Styan and the success they achieved by managing risk and making sound decisions. It wasn’t the place they finished that mattered, but the effort, time, and critical thinking skills each student exhibited that was so extraordinary.

Boerngen concludes, “These five outstanding individuals worked together to make the types of management decisions that farmers face every day. They applied the technical and fundamental marketing knowledge they gained in AGR 324, and they worked extremely well together as a team. In my book, this adds up to a very successful intercollegiate challenge! It has been my privilege to advise them, and I can’t wait to see how their futures unfold.”