Three Dutchess BOCES Plant and Animal Sciences students traveled to Syracuse to present projects at the 2024 Future Farmers of America state competition, with one returning with first place in their division.
Maleah Bishop, Lucy Mann and Bryanna Coakley competed individually.
There were 36 research divisions divided by topic, age and individual or team this year, according to Juleah Tolosky, New York State FFA director.
Bishop’s project was selected as the top plant research project in her division. It looked at the effects of radio frequency radiation on plant growth – specifically on brown mustard.
“I spent all summer coming up with ideas because I am interested in radiation and it pops up all over,” said Bishop. 
The students’ projects spanned seven months and were on top of regular classwork.
Bishop, a senior at Arlington High School, set up an ‘X’ formation, planting the plants in pairs every six inches. The first set of plants went in six weeks before radiation was introduced. After six weeks, she set up a Kajeet mobile hotspot in the center and planted the other sets of plants.
Each Wednesday she measured the height of the plants and each Thursday she measured the radiation level.
“I figured that no matter what the level of radiation was, the plants would be stunted or wouldn’t grow,” she said.
In the end that wasn’t the case.
“I found there was no statistical proof that it changed their growth,” she said.
Tolosky said plant research in general is important.
“There is a real need for agricultural research because we live in a world that is changing on so many fronts – climate, the amount of land available, population growth and, in the U.S., we are particularly affluent and so we have a lot of choice in how we feed ourselves,” she said, adding, “Research is needed to help navigate all those changes.”
Mann’s experiment was animal-based.
She looked at the effects of isolation on rats.
She separated rats, putting them in different locations on different days and housing them in small and large cages.
“My hypothesis was that the rats in the small cages would be more stressed,” said Mann, a senior at Pawling High School.
Mann found that the rats in the smaller cages weighed less than the rats in larger cages, slept more and didn’t move as much.
Coakley, who was not at the interview, is a junior at John Jay High School, and looked at the effect of human affection on the racing time of Madagascar hissing cockroaches.
Mann and Bishop said they learned valuable lessons by participating in the competition.
“We learned a lot of skills like time management, dealing with setbacks and how difficult experiments are and how much planning is involved,” Bishop said.

Both are planning to be science majors and believe these projects help to prepare them for what is in store.

Mann said she learned perseverance and how to overcome being discouraged.

And, they both said they learned the importance of having help from others.

Tolosky said the competition is open to the more than 12,000 students enrolled in FFA throughout the state and that nearly 2,000 students competed in the various divisions.