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The next generation: already agriculture champions

FFA Dairy Cattle winners 2012

Four agriculture students from the Petaluma FFA are headed to the Royal Highland Livestock Show in Edinburgh, Scotland this June after taking first place in the Dairy Cattle Evaluation competition at the 85th National FFA Conference. The team, made up of chapter president Regina Pozzi, 2012 graduate Jessica Jones, sophomore Alexandra Gambonini, and senior Francesca Gambonini, won first place in the state competition last May to qualify for nationals.

The Dairy Cattle Evaluation event tests competitors’ knowledge of dairy cattle and problem solving skills. In the first part of the competition, each team member takes a general knowledge exam about dairy management and the dairy industry. Next, individuals are asked to evaluate 6 classes of dairy cattle after observation and are judged on their accuracy and reasoning. The group activity portion involves a hypothetical dairy farm management problem, for which the team must prepare a ten minute presentation with recommendations. This “dairy challenge” portion was a brand new addition to the national contest, and the team of dedicated girls “dominated,” according to Coach Grossi.

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The competition requires a strong working knowledge of the industry and months of preparation. This committed team practiced weekly throughout the entire school year and spent long days preparing right before nationals. Supporting the champions along the way are coaches Frank Gambonini and Dominic Grossi. “Most teams start practicing in December for the March-May contest season, but these girls wanted to win, and never stopped practicing, even after winning state,” said Coach Gambonini.

This will be the second time coach Dominic Grossi has brought a team to the international competition; in 2010 the Petaluma FFA team brought home 1st and 2nd place trophies from Edinburgh. Both coaches, who are volunteering their time, are dairy ranchers whose families are rooted in Marin-Sonoma agriculture. They insist that coaching the team has been an excellent experience, and the students’ self-motivation makes their job as coaches easy. Coach Grossi insisted he “can’t talk enough about how hard they work to get where they got.”

More than 55,000 students attended the National FFA Convention where the top qualifiers from each state competed in career development and leadership events. The convention also includes career and education expos, leadership workshops, keynote speakers, and the National Organization delegate meeting and elections. Each Petaluma team member won $1000 for their victory at the convention.

All four winners are actively involved in Marin-Sonoma agriculture. Alexandra Gambonini, the youngest member of the team, was named California Holstein Association’s “Breeder of the Future” for her breeding project producing twenty-three Registered Holsteins. Both she and Francesca Gambonini are officers in the California Junior Holstein Association. Regina Pozzi has received accolades for her success in beef production, winning the 2012 California State FFA Beef Production Entrepreneurship Star Award.

The Petaluma team will be joined at the Royal Highland Livestock Show by the top U.S. 4-H and Jr. College teams. Unlike American competitions, teams at the International Championships are made up of two people, so the Petaluma team will have to split into two teams. Other challenges include the differences in rules and breeds from Californian agriculture. Despite the challenges, coach Grossi insists the opportunity to participate in the Royal Highland Livestock Show and travel together as a team to Scotland is a wonderful reward to honor all of the hard work the team members have dedicated along the way.

These champions have inspired the new FFA team that both coaches have taken on this year. “They are eager to learn,” says Gambonini, who is ready for another “absolutely excellent” coaching experience.

By Clara Hartman, UCCE Extern and Juliet Braslow

The National FFA organization (formerly Future Farmers of America) is an agriculture-based student leadership organization that has prepared students for careers in agriculture since 1928.