BCLUW school district receives 23 acre land donation for test plot near high school

PHOTO COURTESY OF BEN PETTY The BCLUW school district recently received a donation of 23.44 acres of farmland from the Smith Trust, located just northeast of the high school, that will be the future site of a test plot for vocational agriculture students.

CONRAD — Conrad is widely known as “The Black Dirt Capital of the World,” and the community has always taken great pride in its rich agricultural roots. Thanks to a recent land donation from the Smith Trust, the BCLUW school district will now have new opportunities to educate students on farming with the goal of encouraging them to pursue a professional career in the field.

The 23.44 acre parcel will soon serve as a test plot for BCLUW Ag students and is conveniently located just northeast of the high school on the edge of Conrad.

“We’re always trying to look for more opportunities to give kids real world type of experiences, and this addition of land that we can use as a test plot for our agricultural sciences and FFA programs is certainly gonna be able to do that,” Superintendent Ben Petty said. “Having our own test plot like that is something that we’ve been lacking, so it’s a great opportunity for our students. We’re also excited about the connections we’ll have further because I know we’ll be searching out for some assistance from others in the ag science business and others in the community — so not just real world experience, but, I think a good way to partner with other communities in the planting, harvest, planning and everything that goes with it.”

The donation came about as the result of an internal audit at MidwestOne Bank, which oversees the trust started by the late William Smith, modifying the relationship between the school district and the Smith Trust due to a regulation requiring that these types of foundations distribute five percent of the value of their assets. In the past, the land owned by the trust — about 115 acres in total — had been rented out to a farmer, and the revenue generated was allotted to scholarships for graduating BCLUW seniors. According to Petty, the plan is for the trust to sell the rest of the farm and invest the proceeds into continuing the scholarship program well into the future.

“They actually believe that even with the donation of land, they’re going to be able to give out over twice as much per year in scholarships under this new operating principle,” he said.

While the details on how the plot will be utilized haven’t been finalized yet, it will be a great asset for incoming Ag teacher Frannie Brown, a Grundy Center native who is coming to BCLUW after graduating from Iowa State University. The district will be leasing the land out to a farmer this year, and Petty said they aim to use the proceeds to purchase seed, fertilizer and any other materials needed to get the test plot up and running.

“We’re hopeful that we’ll have, maybe, some donation of some labor and some equipment for a while from some folks in our community, but like I said, this all happened really quickly for us to be able to take possession of a small portion of it before us to be able to take possession of it before it had to be sold,” Petty said. “There’s a little bit of flying the airplane as we build it here, but we’re certainly excited for the possibilities it’ll have for our students.”

Brent Schipper, a BCLUW school board member and local farmer with deep family roots in the area, is equally excited about the donation.

“I think it’s an absolutely great opportunity to allow the kids to have a more hands-on (experience) and truly understand the business of farming from actually putting seeds in the ground to the business side of buying the inputs, selling the grain, even working with the FSA agency on the government programs and how that affects the farmer,” he said. “Having a farm where you can truly do it is the best learning tool, I think, versus just reading it in a book.”

When Schipper, a Class of 1997 BCLUW alum, was in high school, the district didn’t even have its own agricultural education program, and those who wanted to take such classes went to Grundy Center.

“To see what we have now, it’s just awesome. We have our own full-time teacher. We now have this 23 acres that is the school’s and have full control of it,” Schipper said. “I think, without a doubt, one of the neat parts is having the local farmers and businesses able to partner and use their area of expertise to help guide the class and help Frannie out because it’ll be a big undertaking for a first year teacher to not only start teaching, but start farming. It’s a good opportunity to have some face time with the kids and answer questions and explain what you do. The ability to put the message out directly to young kids about what farmers are doing needs to happen.”

The test plot program is still very much in its infancy stage, but the seed has been planted. Now, community members, staff and students are invited to watch it grow.


Contact Robert Maharry

at 641-753-6611 ext. 255 or



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