May 18 2020 08:45 AM

Ag spelling bees spread agricultural vocabulary.

Jose Magaña was crowned the winner of the second annual Tulare County Agribee. He correctly spelled and defined “sire.”

The concept of an agricultural spelling bee — Agribee — was started by a local Farm Bureau group in Northern California 16 years ago. And, why not? Agriculture impacts everyone’s life and students should learn about where life’s essentials of food and clothing originate.

Two years ago, an Agribee debuted in California’s Tulare County. It was held in the Heritage Complex on the grounds of the International Agri-Center, home of World Ag Expo. It’s logical to host it in Tulare, as it is the epicenter of dairy. There are more cows in that general area than anywhere in North America. It’s located in California’s Central Valley, with some of the most productive soil. Agriculture is the foundation of so much in the community, and those living in the area should be knowledgeable about their surroundings.

The program promotes agriculture and gives students an opportunity to learn about farms, food, and fiber. Additionally, the contestants develop public speaking skills and confidence.

The words
Each school is provided the same list of 100 words and definitions. An example is farrow, and the definition they are given is “the time when a sow gives birth to piglets.” Drought, “a long period with no rain,” is also on the list. There is some flexibility in the definition, and an active farmer serves as one of the judges to evaluate their responses. Two other judges also provide expertise.

Each of the six rural schools in the area holds their own competition, and the top two fifth-grade students advance to the Tulare County Agribee. Students not only spell, but they also provide the definition of common agricultural words. There were 100 terms and definitions that students studied in preparation for local competition.

Those top 12 students are then given another 100 words and definitions for the next level of competition. All 200 words are fair game at the county Agribee. An extensive list of words used in the Butte County Farm Bureau Agribee can be found here.

Teachers, parents, and the media are invited to attend the competition and enjoy a reception of milk and cookies. Happy Cookers donates the cookies and the milk is provided by the local milk processor, Rosa Brothers Creamery. This shows the event has community support as well.

Contestant No. 7 concentrates as she spells her word.

The reward
While the top three students receive a medal, there is great value in the exercise for each participant. While all the schools are considered rural, all of the students are not from farm families or children of farm employees. Learning ag words at an impressionable age may encourage students to pursue careers not initially considered, covering agronomy, animal science/veterinary science, plant scientist/botanist, technology, or equipment engineer. Additionally, students who were raised on a farm are getting exposed to other agricultural sectors in which they may not be familiar. So, everyone, including the students, teachers, and parents, are expanding their knowledge, and not just their spelling prowess.

To learn more about this and other ag education events hosted by the International Agri-Center, visit

Patti Hurtgen

The author is the online media manager and is responsible for the website, webinars, and social media. A graduate of Modesto Junior College and Fresno State, she was raised on a California dairy and frequently blogs on youth programs and consumer issues.