MURRAY, Ky. — Students from the Hutson School of Agriculture at Murray State University repeated as winners in the agribusiness contest at the 2018 North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA) Student Judging Conference held April 18–21 and hosted by Northeast Community College in Norfolk, Nebraska.

Students in the University’s Agribusiness Club and Agronomy Club participated in four contests at the conference: agribusiness, crops, precision agriculture and the knowledge bowl. Murray State students placed as the top team in the four-year division in the agribusiness competition and third in the knowledge bowl. This is the second year in a row that Murray State has won the agribusiness contest. Individual students also placed well with Anthony (George) Bittel and Kristen Gregson, respectively, placing second and third as individuals in the agribusiness contest.

“This opportunity not only allowed us to apply the skills and knowledge we have developed in our degree from Murray State but to also collaborate and grow as agricultural professionals,” Bittel said.

Four students stand next to a sign that says "Agriculture Allied Health."
For the second year in a row, students from the Agribusiness Club at Murray State University placed first in the agribusiness team contest at the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA) Student Judging Conference. These students include (from left to right) George Bittel, Jonathan Royster, Noah Ferguson and Kristen Gregson. Photo credit: Michelle Santiago.

The agribusiness contest consisted of two parts: a written exam and a case study of a Nebraska agricultural production operation that required strategic analysis and a recommendation presented to judges. The contest was intended to evaluate competitors’ grasp of concepts, such as agribusiness management, agricultural economics, agricultural policy and law, agricultural finance and commodity marketing. The team placed second in the case study portion but took top team honors for the contest overall. Members of the agribusiness team included agribusiness seniors George Bittel (Owensboro, Kentucky), Kristen Gregson (Waterloo, Illinois) and Noah Ferguson (Clinton, Kentucky) in addition to agribusiness junior Jonathan Royster (Henderson County, Kentucky). The team was coached by Dr. Michelle Santiago, professor of agribusiness economics at Murray State, with agribusiness senior Benjamin Hornback (Slaughters, Kentucky) as the assistant coach.

“This competition has been a highlight for the Agribusiness Club since I’ve been a member, and I felt privileged getting the chance to represent the club and the University at a national competition,” Gregson said. “The case study was my favorite part of the experience because it gave me an opportunity to apply what I’ve learned from Murray State’s agribusiness department to a real-life situation.”

The third place knowledge bowl team was composed of four members, including agribusiness majors George Bittel and Noah Ferguson as well as agronomy majors Landon Williams (Frankfort, Kentucky) and Joel Reddick (Bardwell, Kentucky). This contest featured quick recall that required students to answer questions from many different areas of agriculture and natural resources.

Four students sit at a table together.
A student team combined from Murray State’s Agribusiness Club and Agronomy Club placed third in the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA) knowledge bowl contest. Members of the team include (from left to right) Joel Reddick, Landon Williams, Noah Ferguson and George Bittel. Photo credit: Michelle Santiago.

Murray State students from the Agronomy Club also competed in the crops and precision agriculture contests. The crops contest included many elements that students preparing to be certified crop advisors would be examined over, including a written agronomic exam, math and lab practicals and live plant identification. Agronomy students participating in the crops contest consisted of agronomy students Kaleb Houston (Dresden, Tennessee), Landon Williams, Alex Fichter (Newburgh, Indiana), Joel Reddick, Bradley James (Sturgis, Kentucky), Anna Arthur (Cynthiana, Kentucky) and Riley Mabe (Henderson County, Kentucky). The precision agriculture contest included a general knowledge exam, component identification of 62 different pieces from agricultural machinery and mathematical analysis of problems related to precision agriculture. Students competing in this contest included Denae Cato (Advance, Missouri), Bree Cox (Shawneetown, Illinois), Dalton Cashon (Dresden, Tennessee), Morgan McGuire (Newburgh, Indiana) and Rob Dawson (Henderson, Kentucky). The Murray State Agronomy Club is advised by Dr. David Ferguson, professor of agronomy.

“I really believe that NACTA has made a successful impact on the future of my crop advising career,” said Kaleb Houston, president of the Agronomy Club. “It was very practical, and I will be able to use what I have learned from the contest in the near future. I highly recommend that if anyone has the opportunity to be involved with NACTA, please do so.”

In between contests, students were able to visit a variety of midwest agribusinesses. Students toured a Monsanto soybean seed production facility in Marshall, Missouri, to learn about quality management practices; experienced agritourism and “green” product marketing with a presentation by the owner of Jowler Creek Winery in Platte City, Missouri; and met with the owners of Demerath Farms, a Plainview, Nebraska, dairy farm that uses a robotic milking system to milk cows around the clock.

“Going on the tour at Monsanto in Marshall was a great practical look into what some of our careers are going to be like,” said seniors Denae Cato and Bree Cox. “The precision agriculture contest was a great learning experience and gave us a good insight into other schools and agricultural practices.”

A large group of agriculture students stand outside a building together.
Students from Murray State’s Agribusiness Club and Agronomy Club competed in the North American College and Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA) Student Judging Conference contests. The student judging conference was held on the campus of Northeast Community College in Norfolk, Nebraska, from April 18–21, 2018.

The annual judging conference saw more than 600 college students participating from more than 20 four-year schools and 15 two-year schools from across the United States and Australia. Other senior division schools participating in the same contests as Murray State included Iowa State University, University of Minnesota–Crookston, University of Wisconsin–Platteville, Kansas State University, Oklahoma State University, Missouri State University and Purdue University among others. Overall, 13 agriculture and natural resources contests were held at the conference. Contests included agribusiness, agricultural mechanics, agriculture sales and communications, computer applications, crops, dairy judging, equine judging, horticulture, knowledge bowl, livestock judging, livestock management, precision agriculture and soil judging.

Murray State University and the Hutson School of Agriculture are excited to host agricultural students from across the nation at next year’s NACTA Student Judging Conference, which is scheduled for April 10–13, 2019. For more information about Murray State’s participation in the 2018 NACTA Judging Conference or Murray State hosting the 2019 NACTA Judging Conference, contact Dr. Michelle Santiago at

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