Albion seeks farm to work with FFA

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 10 April 2013 at 12:00 am

District has 63 acres open for lease

ALBION – The school district sees 63 prime agricultural acres next to the school campus as more than an opportunity to grow food.

The district wants a local farm to lease the land, and work with students in the FFA on choosing what to grow. Students can also work with the farm in determining the costs for growing, harvesting and marketing what will likely be a grain crop.

One other thing: the farmer needs to donate the net proceeds to the FFA or towards a scholarship for a student pursuing a career in agriculture.

“We have a very generous ag community,” said Shawn Liddle, the district’s assistant superintendent for business. “I think we’ll definitely have some takers on this.”

The district purchased 68 acres from Peter Dragan, a local corn and soybean farmer, about a decade ago but allowed him to lease the land. That agreement would end after Mr. Dragan’s death.

Dragan died last Aug. 7 at age 96. The farm has completed the last cycle of a Dragan crop.

That has prompted school officials to consider other possibilities for the land. The Board of Education on Monday decided to seek proposals from the farming community to work the land while including FFA students. A farm would need to pay a $70 per-acre lease or $4,410 annually for 63 acres.

The district has set aside five other of Dragan’s former acres as an FFA “land lab.”

The district is looking for a farm with more than experience in agriculture. The school wants a farm that has a history of working with students and in education.

Two board members, Kevin Doherty and Brenda McQuillan, expressed concern that the district will have to be subjective in picking a farm if more than one want the opportunity.

The district originally pursued the land, seeing it as an asset if the campus would ever expand southward.

Doherty suggested the district may consider putting the Dragan land up for sale. However, he agreed with other board members that the proposal to connect with a local farm would be a benefit to FFA students. He just worries it will be difficult to justify picking one farm over another.

The district will first seek proposals from farmers to see if any farm wants the opportunity.

While a farm wouldn’t reap profits from the crop, a farm could use the project as a tax write-off, and could factor in equipment use as in expense in working the land. District Superintendent Michael Bonnewell also said a farm may get a better bulk deal for fertilizer and seed for its entire operation when the 63 school acres are included.

Board President Margy Brown said she is eager to hear from the farming community about the initiative.

“It provides a unique opportunity for this district that is strong in agriculture,” Brown said. “It’s an unbelievable opportunity for our ag students.”