Students Explore Iowa Farms to Learn About Agriculture

July 27th, 2007

AMES, Iowa - What's it like to drive a tractor for the first time? Students participating in Iowa State University's Agricultural Weekend Experience (AWE) program would tell you it's an experience they never thought they'd have. 

"Now that's a tractor," said Tonda Hadden, a junior in agronomy at Iowa State from Council Bluffs, just before climbing the steel staircase leading up to the cab.  

Driving tractors is just one part of the weekend program that helps students understand life on the farm. More than half the students enrolled in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences have little or no experience with farms, so the experience is important.

"I would definitely recommend this program to other students, especially students like myself who grew up in a city and have no experience with farming," said Becky Weeks, a graduate student in genetics studying corn from Kansas City.

In between learning about tiling fields and hybrid corn, students learned about the history and dynamics of Iowa agriculture and what it takes to manage a farm. Host families shared memories of agriculture and their farming operations.

"I think this experience has helped me to think about farming in Iowa and the rest of the world, so I will be able to use my education to help preserve this heritage," said Karla Otterpohl, junior in genetics from Missouri Valley.

Larry and Monica Lursen, who farm near Clarkesville, and Marylou and Don Ahrens, who farm near Osage, opened their homes to students for one weekend last month. During the stay students discussed financial and management issues with the families and shared their impressions of Iowa agriculture. 

"I really enjoyed sitting down and talking to the host families. They understand the problems that farmers face and they had innovative ideas that could help farm families and new farmers get their operations up and running," Otterpohl said.

"I was surprised to learn that they play music for the cows. The music helps the cows get used to noise so they don't get excited when people come into the barn," Weeks said. "It was also interesting getting a perspective of Iowa agriculture from Eduard and Resy Reuling, the dairy owners who relocated to Iowa from the Netherlands."

The tour of the dairy was just one stop for the students. During the weekend they also toured an ethanol plant and several businesses.

Since its start three years ago, 26 students have participated in the program. Don Ahrens said he'd like to see the program expand and give more students the opportunity to have a hands-on learning experience. 

"This program is very beneficial to the students for actual experience on a production farm. We are happy to help out in any way we can and we enjoy meeting and visiting with the students," Larry Lursen said.

AWE was co-sponsored by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Iowa State University Agricultural Endowment. Founded in 1937, the endowment provides opportunities for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to support the people and infrastructure vital to the future of Iowa agriculture. The Iowa State University Agriculture Endowment provides scholarships to Iowa State students; support for student activities and internships; grants for Iowa State research and demonstration projects and support for other College of Agriculture and Life Science programs that advance agriculture in Iowa.

For photos and information on the AWE program go to:


Ivy Ulmer, Agriculture and Life Sciences Communication Service, (515) 294-4319,
Brian Meyer, Agriculture and Life Sciences Communication Service, (515) 294-0706,