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Natrona County ag student wins national science fair with irrigation project

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Louisville, Ky. – As only a freshman in high school, Natrona County High School student Connor Coughenour of the Casper FFA Chapter qualified to compete at the National FFA Convention and came out with the top prize in division one of the Power, Structural and Technical Systems category.

“In my project, I tested different types of irrigation,” Coughenour, who is now a sophomore, explained. 

After competing at the Wyoming FFA Science Fair in April, Coughenour submitted a research paper, which was judged by a panel.

“The top 15 FFA members make it to Nationals in each category,” he said.

Research project

Coughenour’s project looked at three types of irrigation – sprinkler, flood and underground.

“I started with two common types of irrigation – flood and sprinkler,” he explained. “Then, I injected water into the ground as an underground system.”

When he began working on his project Connor says he was looking for a unique idea.

“It is really windy in Casper, and the water from the sprinklers gets blown off the fields,” he said. “I was looking for a way to put the water directly into the ground.” 


He began the project by researching irrigation systems.

“I found out that sprinkler systems are more efficient because flood irrigation results in runoff, and if a field has a high point, the water goes around those spots,” Coughenour said. “Sprinklers are most efficient.”

Coughenour controlled his project tightly by conducting the experiment in a controlled indoor environment, and each system got the same amount of water.

“They were all given the same amount of water, and I measured plant height to see which one would grow best,” he said. “The underground system worked best in my experiment.”

Competing at nationals

During the National FFA Convention, Coughenour presented his project to a panel of judges. His final score was a combination of the presentation score and the research paper score.

Following his presentation, Coughenour wound up as the first placing project.

“I enjoyed National FFA Convention,” he said. “There were a lot of people there, and it was really fun.”

Coughenour explained that he visited with colleges and industry leaders from around the country at the career expo, and he learned new leadership skills from presentations during the event.

Moving forward

Coughenour also mentioned that he isn’t finished competing in the science fair.

“This year, I want to expand my project,” he said. “This year, I am going to work on extending the project to look at cost efficiency of each system.”

“My goal is to return to nationals with another research project,” Coughenour added.

He also plans on getting involved in other contests and says he might run for a chapter FFA office in the future.

Outside of FFA, Coughenour plays football, wrestles, runs track and plays baseball. His parents are Steve and Sheri Coughenour of Casper.

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

Science fair

The National FFA Agriscience Fair is a competition for FFA members who are interested in the science and technology of agriculture. It is held each year during the National FFA Convention and Expo and sponsored nationally by Cargill, John Deere and Syngenta. 

FFA members can compete in the National Agriscience Fair in one of six categories – animal systems; environmental service and natural resource systems; food products and processing systems; plant systems; power, structural and technical systems; and social systems.

To qualify for the National FFA Agriscience Fair students must be in grades seven through 12, conduct a scientific research project pertaining to the agriculture and food science industries and present their findings to a panel of judges with a display and report. 

All national participants are selected as the state winner at their state agriscience fairs and earn national competition eligibility after being placed in the top 15 within their respective categories.


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