Chiawana students tour Pasco ag businesses

By Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldApril 17, 2013 

About 150 Chiawana High School students received a close look at where and how their foods get from the field to the table.

They attended an all-day agricultural event Wednesday at Syngenta Seeds and other neighboring ag businesses in Pasco. It was set up by Chiawana High senior Alex Johnson, 18, of Pasco, with help from school teachers and staff.

Her goal, she said, was to help the agriculture program at her Pasco school to grow.

"That's what I've been working on for the past four years. This is a stepping stone for that," said Alex, who grew up on a farm, is a longtime member of FFA and would like to study plant genetics. Her mother, Renee Johnson, is an agricultural bio-technology teacher at Chiawana High.

During the ag expo, students toured the seed plant, which processes corn, green beans and peas. The plant receives the vegetables from the field and cleans, dries, bags and stores the plants' seeds. The plant also handles Syngenta seeds from other vegetable crops but does not process them in Pasco.

Students were invited into the quality control lab where Jean Tolliver gave them a quick tour.

She's a registered seed technologist, one of 160 in the United States and Canada. Tolliver told the students the lab tests samples for contaminants, moisture, germination rate, even the number of seeds per pound.

"What we do here is a great asset to agriculture. You might think about what we do in the lab," she said.

The students also toured nearby Pasco Processing, which makes foods for companies like Kraft and chain restaurants like KFC, and Easterday Farms Produce, a fresh pack potato plant.

Several other companies and groups had displays set up outside of Syngenta Seeds, including Big Bend Electric Cooperative, RDO Equipment, Logan-Zenner Seeds and Columbia Basin College agriculture students.

CBC students were there to talk to the high schoolers about ag-related job opportunities. Student Chris Lamm of Kennewick said there are a lot of science-based jobs in ag.

"CBC ag classes have opened a lot of doors for me. I've found I'm capable of doing a lot of things I didn't know I can do," said Eli Navarro of Prosser, another CBC ag student. "There's more to agriculture than just dirt."

Alex said she wanted to organize an ag expo at her school for her senior project, which is a graduation requirement. But when Syngenta contacted the school and proposed setting up a similar event at its plant, Alex and her teachers jumped at the offer.

"It was awesome, now we had resources," said Alex.

Ben Hancock, plant lead at the seed plant, said Syngenta wants to be more involved in the community and get more youth interested in agriculture.

"We want them to know ag is more than just working in the fields or farming. They can also be scientists, do marketing, go into engineering and design. There's a ton of options. They're going to be our leaders and produce the foods of the future," Hancock said.

Chiawana's Kim Le, 15, said she never really considered a career in agriculture before going on the tours. "Now I am," she said.

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