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St. Elmo FFA Soil Judging Team takes first at state, will head to nationals this spring

The St. Elmo FFA Soils Judging Team includes front row from left: Wade Stine, Lane Stine and Lowell Wilhour. In the back are Kinley Carson and Anna Stine


The St. Elmo FFA Soil Judging team recently took first at the Illinois State FFA Land Use CDE when it was held on Wednesday, Oct. 11, at Southwestern Illinois College (SWIC). The performance qualifies the team to participate in the National Land Judging this spring.

“We are so excited for the opportunity to represent our state, our community and our chapter at the national level,” FFA Advisor Mandy Totten said. “We have been working extremely hard over the past three years to get to this level of success.  We took home first place in 2021 and 2022 at the section level and second place this year at the section level, which really fueled our fire to get back into the practice room and be ready for state.  And fortunately that practice and hard work paid off and we took home the state title.”

Totten credits the students’ dedication, hard work and ability to rise to healthy competition as contributors to the club’s recent success.

“We have some great FFA chapters locally that push us to work hard and that level of competition has helped create the success we have today!” she said. “The members of the St Elmo FFA Judging team have a deep rooted passion for FFA and tremendous respect for their school and community, which motivates them to come in every morning before school starts to practice.  The amount of hours these members have put into not only soils judging but the FFA is remarkable and really shows their character and self discipline.”

The National Land Judging will take place from April 30 to May 2, 2024, in El Reno, OK.

FFA members are really digging the opportunity to learn more about soils that are not necessarily found locally.

“We are excited to evaluate soils that we would not see here in Illinois,” Totten said. “My team is very versatile and adaptable.  They can ask the hard questions that really make you think as they understand the chemistry of soil very well so I am excited to see them in action at the national level!  This is the first state win in the history of St Elmo FFA  and we take that very seriously and are very proud to represent Illinois FFA at the national level.”

“I would say that my favorite part of FFA is the competitions,” said FFA Member Wade Stine. “The many CDEs (Career Development Events) that the FFA has are not only informative, but also are a great way to introduce different areas of agriculture to students who may not know about them. On top of that for people who know of or practice in these areas, they are a great way to apply knowledge of agriculture, and of course, they’re fun.”

Wade Stine also said that since this marked his first year participating in soil judging, he was not sure what to expect.

“Living on a farm, I knew the basics, but other than that I learned everything this year,” he said. “I have to give thanks to my FFA advisor, Mrs. Totten. If it weren’t for her, we would have never made it this far.”

FFA member Lowell Wilhour said he enjoys participating in the various competitions and the personal relationships they bring.

“I’m a very competitive person so I enjoy doing any competitions I can do,” Wilhour said. “I’ve also made many good relationships from competitions as we spend many hours practicing and doing the competition together.”

Wilhour, who plans to study agriculture in college, said he believes he has learned a lot through FFA that will set him up for the future.

“My favorite thing about FFA is all of the competitions and all the friendships I have gained,” Lane Stine said. “One thing that has helped me is having an awesome teacher who is very knowledgeable and competitive.”

“Through FFA I have been able to learn new skills and form relationships that I never would have thought I would have been able to,” said member Anna Stine. “I love taking the day off of school to go to competitions, conventions, and events with the greatest advisor and friends, something I only had the opportunity to do because of the FFA.”

“ I’ve learned that being confident in yourself will help you tremendously during this competition as there’s a lot of information to study. It can get overwhelming at times, but before the competition Mrs. Totten told us to trust ourselves and not second guess and it definitely helped during the competition.

“FFA has given me countless opportunities to meet new people, learn how to talk to them, and build valuable relationships with them,” FFA member Kinley Carson said.

Being able to overcome nervousness has proved to be a huge asset for Carson.

“I would always get so nervous and worked up before every contest because I didn’t think I was prepared,” Carson said. “Mrs. Totten told me nerves are a good thing, it only means you care about what you are about to do. Since she told me this I have been able to remind myself of this during big competitions.”

Anna Stine said she has learned “countless things” throughout her involvement in FFA, and she credits Totten as a mentor who is not only knowledgeable but “enjoys competitions as much as we do.”

“I would encourage everyone who is able to join FFA,” Anna Stine said. “Before joining this organization I was never very outgoing, I wasn’t the type of person to go out of my way to talk to people, and I definitely wasn’t confident in my work. Being in FFA competitions and workshops has taught me to open up to people and ask questions about things. I was no longer afraid to talk to people and learned that I actually love to have conversations. I was confident in my competitions, mostly because my advisor always had my back and believed in me.”

The St. Elmo FFA will be holding a Pay for Your Day Holiday Raffle to help with the trip expenses.