Teamwork & Problem-Solving Key to South Dakota’s Winning FFA Ag Mechanics Team

Posted on: January 30, 2024   |   Category: News Releases
Team Photo With Award

FFA Week 2024 Farmers Union Supports Next Generation of Ag Leaders: The future of South Dakota’s No. 1 industry of agriculture is in the hands of the next generation of farmers, ranchers and agriculture professionals. With this in mind, each year during FFA Week (Feb. 17-24) South Dakota Farmers Union highlights a South Dakota FFA member or chapter. Enjoy this story about the FFA members who make up the state’s winning FFA Ag Mechanics Team.

Teamwork & Problem-Solving Key to South Dakota’s Winning FFA Ag Mechanics Team

By Lura Roti for South Dakota Farmers Union

A side conversation with her friend, Spencer Enstad, during English class introduced Erika Starr to the FFA ag mechanics competition. 

“Spencer told me I could compete in a contest focused on what we were learning about in ag class,” recalled Starr, a Harrisburg High School senior. “I didn’t have a clue about mechanics, but I thought I would have a blast learning about this stuff.”

Turns out, Starr did have fun learning about engines, electrical wiring, welding, concrete and surveying – two years after joining the team, Starr became one of four Harrisburg FFA members to win the South Dakota State FFA ag mechanics competition.

Erika Starr

Along with teammates Owen Murphy, Spencer Enstad and Kendrick Droppers, Starr and her team placed 10th in the national competition held during the 2023 National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana.

What’s Erika’s philosophy on leadership? Watch to find out.

“Standing on the national stage, waiting with FFA members from across the country, it hit me – I placed tenth individually and our team received gold in a national competition,” explained Murphy.

Murphy organized the Harrisburg FFA Ag Mechanics team his freshman year because when he joined FFA, the chapter did not have any members competing in the competition.

Winning the state competition and going on to compete at the national level was a goal Murphy set for the team after they placed fifth in the state competition their sophomore year.

“We didn’t get here by succeeding the first time. It took Spencer and me three years to finally win,” explained Murphy, a sixth generation Beresford farmer. “We all committed to each other that even if we were sick, we would show up to practice. Everyone on our team knew the expectation was to win. Everyone wanted it. We all had the same fire in our belly to win.”

Owen Murphy
Owen Murphy

His family’s farm is the reason Murphy joined FFA and signed up to compete on the ag mechanics team. His grandpa, Tom Farley, and uncle, Chris Farley, were both FFA members when they were in high school.

Owen Murphy on his future in agriculture.

“I have been working on machinery on my grandpa’s farm since I was 12. I like figuring out how things work. In fact, if I need something to get rid of stress, I go fix something,” Murphy said. After high school, Murphy will continue working on his family’s farm while attending SDSU in pursuit of degrees in precision agriculture and agronomy.

Like Murphy, Enstad also likes fixing things.

“I am more of a hands-on learner. I like tinkering with stuff,” said Enstad, who works construction in the summer months and plans to one day own his own construction company. “Ag classes and FFA encouraged me to do what I want to do after high school, not just the typical job. They showed me there are a lot of options.”

Enstad and his teammates said winning the state FFA ag mechanics contest took hundreds of hours of hands-on practice and textbook studying, as well as plenty of grit, determination, problem-solving and teamwork.

Team member Droppers explained. “You can’t know everything. Working together as a team, we built off of each other’s weaknesses and strengths. If I knew something really well and our teammate did not understand it, I would explain it so next time they would get the question correct.”

Kendrick Droppers

Droppers said Murphy encouraged him to join the team because of his passion for automotive mechanics. During the national competition, Droppers’ individual placing was also in the top 20 at fourteenth. After graduation, Droppers plans to pursue a degree in diesel mechanics at Southeast Technical College.

Reflecting on the team’s diverse talents, Droppers added. “I learned to appreciate the people around me. Whether it was Owen, or Spencer or Erika or Mr. C – everyone brought something and at the end of the day, we would not have come this far without everyone trying their hardest and always coming to practice with 110 percent.”

Watch to learn what Kendrick has to say about teamwork.

Mr. C is the name most students use for FFA adviser Josh Christiansen. Although he made sure the students had access to all the information and resources they would need to excel in the competition, he credits the students’ success to their self-motivation, drive and ability to problem solve.

“In between scheduled practices, I would find them studying ag mechanics textbooks or practicing welding or wiring. They put in the time to get better and to learn,” Christiansen said.

Christiansen is one of two Harrisburg High School Agriculture Education Instructors/FFA Advisors. Together with Tara Fastert, they teach a diverse lineup of 13 classes daily ranging from plant science, animal science and wildlife and fisheries, to welding, ag leadership and greenhouse management.

Spencer Enstad

“It’s a lot. With more than 300 students, some weeks I have 500 assignments to grade. But it’s worth it because we have something interesting for every student,” Fastert said. “Some kids like shop, and they will take all the shop classes they can. Some kids like animals and they will take all the animal classes. By the time they have taken all the classes in their area of interest, they realize they like us and the program, so they keep taking classes.”

Watch to hear what Spencer says FFA taught him about future careers

Learning about topics outside her wheelhouse is what first attracted Starr to take the intro to trades class that led her to the ag mechanics team. As her involvement in FFA and exposure to agriculture increased through classes, the Chapter President said her respect for the people and the industry of agriculture grew.

“I never really paid much attention to agriculture before taking ag classes,” Starr said. “I did not realize the impact it has on our state and country – and throughout history. I believe it is the backbone of our country and I have a lot of respect for farmers and the other people working in agriculture.”

After graduation this spring, Starr will be heading to Iowa State University to pursue a degree in biology with plans to launch a career in either human or animal medicine.