Mostly unused by the Watertown-Mayer School District since it was purchased in 2006, the Watertown-Mayer School District’s land south of town on Highway 25 could soon be bustling with activity.
Two new soccer practice fields are already slated to be built at the site, and last week, Watertown-Mayer agricultural education teacher and FFA advisor Jim Kocherer got the go-ahead to use remaining portions of the land for a crop plot. The new project will serve both as a fundraiser for the school’s agricultural programs and as a new learning lab for students.
“I’ve heard stories bout the Mader property and how much the community values that purchase,” said Kocherer, who took over the school’s agricultural programs late last school year. “To put that land to use is pretty exciting. My class and program is winning, and I think the community wins by seeing that purchase being put to good use.”
Kocherer said the soccer fields would be staked this month, and the crop plot, which will not interfere with the fields, would be staked at the same time. Soil samples will be taken this fall, and corn will be planted in the spring. Beans will be rotated in the following year in an every-other year rotation.
The crop plot will serve as a fundraiser for the Watertown-Mayer agricultural programs, which receive very limited funding from the district to maintain a wide array of classes, as well as an FFA chapter that that averages 40-50 high school members. The middle school FFA also has 20 new exploratory members as part of a new component in the Watertown-Mayer chapter. Kocherer said it was important for him to find a way to raise funds for the program without burdening the district with additional funding requests, and that it would also be immensely beneficial to his agricultural students in teaching them entrepreneurial values and independence, which he said is at the core of FFA values.
Kocherer added that managing the crop plot would teach the students about the business side of farming.
“They’ll be paying attention to crop prices and the price of fuel. They’re going to be aware of the agribusiness end of things,” he said. “It’s not just about farming, but being aware of inputs and what you’re going to get as far as outputs. Being a fundraiser, they’ll be very aware of cost/benefit analysis. The economics of it will definitely be at the core of what we’re doing.”
The fundraising ability of the crop plot will be enhanced because the seed will be donated by various companies that rely on data collected on the seed’s performance on a plot of land where variables are pretty much uniform. Kocherer also expects the fertilizer to be completely or partially donated, and the cultivating, planting and harvest will be contributed by the Watertown-Mayer FFA Alumni members.
The crop plot will also provide lessons in the classroom, as students will be able to be involved with the planting process, testing, and other projects throughout the year. Kocherer said other neighboring school districts to both the north and west of Watertown already have successful crop plot programs.
The district’s property, which used to be farmed in crop rotation, has since been left to fall to fallow, meaning no cropping since it was purchased by the district. To keep weed seeds down for undesirables, the hay has been cut for materials in recent years, but the soil has been stripped of nutrients with no fertilizer being added. Because of this, Kocherer said he isn’t anticipating the highest possible yield in the first year, but he has high hopes for the future.
The school district in the past had been approached by somebody interested in farming the land, but because of the bonding status of the land, it was not allowable for a third party to make a profit off the land. However, this time, the farming of the land is allowable because the profits will be staying within the school’s own agricultural program.