University of Minnesota Crookston agriculture and natural resources students who attended the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA) conference in mid-April in Modesto, California have a lot to be proud of after their competitions, including taking home the trophy for winning the four-year division sweepstakes. UMN Crookston also brought back first place team wins in Horticulture and Livestock Management. Individual students that placed in first were Katie Orth for Equine Management, Melissa Hammer for Ag Computer Application, David Maschhoff for Horticulture, and Elizabeth Reich for Vet Science. 

Theresa Helegson, Jonathon Holland and Laura Bell at NACTA Conference
Theresa Helgeson, Jonathon Holland and Laura Bell at NACTA Conference

Advisor Theresa Helgeson, who is also an instructor and lab services coordinator on campus, said 17 UMN Crookston students participated in 10 of the 17 NACTA contests in categories of Ag Computer Application, Crops, Equine Management, Horticulture, Livestock Judging, Ag Business, Dairy Judging, Livestock Management, Vet Science, and Knowledge Bowl. There were almost 500 students from both two-year and four-year schools in attendance. UMN Crookston faculty and staff that attended the conference with students included Helgeson, Senior Admissions Counselor Jonathon Holland, and Laura Bell, who is an instructor and lab services coordinator. Laney Swiers and Ben Olander were this year’s NACTA student co-chairs.

“UMC has been competing in NACTA since the 1980s and both Jonathon and I competed as students, so it’s nice to pay it forward to our current students,” Helgeson said. “Students got to learn about different subjects from their peers and now they talk about those new subjects. The passion is very similar.”

“The students did a lot of work to fundraise to be able to go to the competition such as selling buttered braids in the fall, hosting car washes this winter, and they got some money from crowdfunding,” she added. “They had a really great time there, especially enjoying the outdoor pool, and got to interact with other schools that were staying at the same hotel. Wahpeton, North Dakota was there and, when they were announcing our students at the banquet hall, Wahpeton was cheering for us.”

NACTA students at conference

Other NACTA competition placements for UMN Crookston included third as a team for Ag Business, Ag Computer Application second and third place for Alyssa Sharp and Logan Kettner, Horticulture second and third place for Katherine Hansen and Laney Swiers, Livestock Management second and third place for Logan Kettner and Melissa Hammer, Vet Science second place to Katie Mack, and the Knowledge Bowl team ended in third place after a nail-biting competition.

“I was really proud of the Knowledge Bowl students because those competition questions could have anything to do with agriculture, and if you’re a pre-vet student you might need to know about horticulture,” Helgeson shared. “Our Knowledge Bowl team beat River Falls, Wisconsin that Thursday, then competed against Texas A&M. We beat Texas and that put us in the bracket against Fort Hays, Kansas. We lost to Fort Hays then had to compete against River Falls again, and ended up losing to them which gave us third place.”

UMN Crookston also got to have a little fun while they were out west as some students went to Yosemite National Park, site seeing in San Francisco, and learned about crops that grow in California including citrus and nuts.

Next year’s NACTA competition is set for April 10-13, 2024 in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

View more photos from the NACTA competition on the UMN Crookston Ag & Natural Resources Department Facebook page.


Story Contact: Jess Bengtson - - (218) 281-8432