Hours of intensive study and preparation paid off for the Belgrade FFA Agronomy team, which won sixth place gold in competition at the national FFA convention in Indianapolis earlier this month.

Belgrade High School juniors Raey Hanke and Kiley Smieja competed in Indianapolis with teammates Anthony and Joe Tatarka, who are now freshmen at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. The foursome qualified for the national competition by winning the Agronomy competition at the Montana state convention last spring. FFA rules allow all team members to compete at nationals even after some have graduated from high school. The Tatarkas made the three-hour road trip to Indianapolis for the competition.

The Agronomy competition consists of a series of written tests. Competitors are judged on their knowledge of plants, seeds, agricultural machinery, and grain and soils grading. Hanke and Smieja explained that it is challenging because there is no way of knowing what kinds of questions will be asked, so they spent hours learning new materials and reviewing their sciences.

The national test includes questions about agricultural products and practices from all over the country, so the Belgrade team spent a lot of time learning new material, in addition to 


“It’s intense, but it’s a lot of fun,” Smieja said, explaining that the team began preparing for the national competition this past summer. She estimated that they spent 50 hours studying together, and each member studied an additional 50 hours independently.

Asked about the highlights of the trip for them, Smieja and Hanke said it wasn’t the “three hours of silence” they spent during the grueling testing, but the social interaction with their teammates and other FFA members from around the country. 

Camaraderie, team-building, sight-seeing and making friends were also highlights for members of Belgrade’s FFA Horse Evaluation team, which placed in the silver category at the national competition. Horse team member Taylor McCormack said the competition – which comprised judging four halter and four performance contests and explaining the reasoning behind conclusions drawn – requires less academic study than the Agronomy contest, but the team still met about once a week to prepare for the competition.

Other winning Horse team members were juniors AshLee Schumacher and Abby Black, and BHS graduate Kaydee Anne Teselle, now a freshman at Montana State.

This was the second time Belgrade’s Horse team has competed at the national level in five years. The team won the state contest and competed at the national convention in 2014.

Belgrade High School teacher and FFA Advisor Kyle Gavin said he is excited about the future of Belgrade FFA and its members.

“The students have worked hard to prepare for the national contests,” he said. “We were able to compete with the best FFA chapters in the nation.”