Porterville’s young, Future Farmers of America know what they are doing. And on Saturday, they proved to the judges, their teachers and their peers when they gathered for the Fifth Annual Don Laux Memorial FFA Citrus Judging Contest held at the Porterville Fairgrounds.
Sponsored by Gary Laux, and organized and facilitated by local citrus industry leaders and retired Ag teachers, the event also included a tri-tip lunch followed by the presentation of ribbons and plaques to high-scoring individuals and teams.
And, by the time the day was over, Monache High School’s ‘A Team’ took home the First Place Overall-High Team perpetual trophy; and Porterville High School and Monache High School’s A and B teams together clinched 10 Overall High Individual awards, and numerous plaques and ribbons. Lindsay High School (Blue) team, also returned with an array of ribbons and one Overall High Individual award.
The competition helps the students learn about, and judge, citrus – the good and bad – said organizers. It also helps the students interact with career individuals in the agriculture and citrus industry, and serves as a citrus-judging contest for FFA teams gearing up for the upcoming California State FFA Finals and Field Day to be held at the end of the month at Fresno State University.
In all, the contest was represented by close to 30 FFA teams from 17 schools’ FFA Chapters from across the State with students judging two classes of oranges, two classes of lemons, two classes of mandarins and two classes of citrus trees. In addition, they also identified a class of citrus defects as they judged for insect damage, physical damage and diseases.
FFA students also had to present oral reasons to citrus industry judges on a citrus orange class, a mandarin class and the class of citrus trees.
“This is a critical-thinking event,” said Christie Bennett, Ag Advisor, MHS. “They will get feedback on how they did in every class and they will get all their scores back.”
Retired Ag teacher Cindy Brown, who facilitated the program, agreed.
“It was competitive with very good classes – placeable and learnable,” Brown said. “The kids learn how to talk and express themselves. They were all well-mannered and awesome. They were positive, awesome kids and I can’t ask for a better group.”
During lunch, Porterville and Monache high students shared thoughts on their experience.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Brenna Galloway, PHS junior. “It’s a local competition and it is nice to see local high school FFA members and local businesses. “Competitions are always nerve wrecking because you have to get in front of a stranger and talk about citrus but hopefully I did OK.”
Nisiah Martinez, a PHS junior agreed, saying it was the first competition of the year and he learned to give his ‘Reasons’ better, preparing in advance of entering the Reasons station and then just saying it, he said.
Allyson McLaughlin said FFA members walk around talking silently to themselves as they go over the ‘talk’ they will be offering in the Reasons station.
Students are not allowed to pick up the fruit but must study it by observing or slightly touching or rolling it.
“By the time you roll it around, you already know,” said MHS senior Kadin Wheeless, who said he felt confident about the competition. “I usually know by looking at the cut-section.”
MHS senior Princessa Ceballos called the competition a fun experience and a great way to improve their judging abilities.
“Overall, we come out more informed about the ag industry,” Ceballos said.
Gary Laux, son of the late Don Laux, said his father, a fourth-generation citrus farmer dating back to 1895, said his father moved to the area in 1955 and started from nothing. And by the time of his death, he had built the family business to more than 1,000 acres.
“We just wanted to memorialize him and help the FFA kids,” Gary Laux said. “Ag is not the most glamorous so it is difficult to get young people involved. You have to deal with extreme cold and extreme heat conditions, so we are trying to get as many people an opportunity to get a taste of the ag industry, especially citrus and trees.”
As the awards segment began, retired PHS ag teacher Bob Mailand, welcomed the group, introduced the Laux family, and other ag-industry leaders who were present, including Roger Drummond, local teacher and a past State Citrus Judge. He also praised the FFA teams for offering a great first-impression before the event even started.
Mailand went on to talk about the difficult process as he talked of the trees, saying “probably one of the most difficult tree classes ever seen. It was tricky.”
He offered post advice for the next competition, informing the students to get to know their score cards and big-talking items.
“This class was all about high-priority things.”
And as the program began, ‘powerclaps’ were offered as names and awards were announced. Among the high wins were Monache’s Nicolas Dowling, Beth Leal, and Princessa Ceballos, as well as PHS’s Brenna Galloway and Peyton Baeza.
“I’m so proud of them all. They did a great job and worked hard – giving up their time on winter break,” said Bennett. “We have two seniors who really excelled and helped (capture) the perpetual trophy.”
Citrus industry volunteers were also thanked and acknowledged for their help in facilitating and making the competition a success, including sponsor Gary Laux, grower and management Dennis Laux, Geoff Galloway of Visalia Citrus Growers; Greg Galloway, grower; Matt Watkins of Bee Sweet Citrus; Nate Laux, field representative and grower; Roger Drummond; Phil Giannetto, citrus farmer; Chris Bastian, citrus management; Mike Smith, Setton Farms; Roger Smith, Tree Source who also donated eight caps for the High Team A and B winners; Amanda Farquson, former FFA member; Caitlyn Indendi, Strathmore Ag teacher; and a group of Porterville College students serving as group leaders.