Agricultural science students are converging on Stephenville for what may be the largest judging event in the nation. More than 7,000 students - almost 3,000 more than last year - have arrived on the Tarleton State University campus to compete against others from across the state.

Each spring, Tarleton's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences hosts a series of career development and judging events for FFA student.

The event kicks off today with the annual invitational contest.

"This is the largest contest in the state of Texas and arguably the largest in the nation," said Texas FFA Executive Director Tom Maynard. "In fact, it could be the largest contest of its kind in the world."

There are more FFA members in Stephenville today than there are in the entire state of Nebraska, Kansas or 28 other states.

In a time of cuts in education, educators must be more selective when it comes to traveling to contests, but those cutbacks haven't hindered the contest.

"Tarleton has historically had a great contest and that quality can be seen in the number of participants advisors are bringing to its campus," said Maynard.

FFA members will compete in traditional events such as livestock and dairy cattle judging as well as new events that reflect a dynamic global agriculture.

The newest additions to the slate of contests are a veterinary technician and environmental and natural resources event. Both disciplines were recently approved as majors.

"These events fall right in line with Tarleton's continuing evolution to provide a relevant, well-rounded education as agriculture continues to grow and change," said Dr. Rudy Tarpley, head of the department of agriculture and consumer sciences.

Not only is Tarleton expanding its course offerings and degree selections, students have the opportunity to gain real-world experience by assisting with the specialized contests.

"It is quite possible that our students are learning more than the FFA students participating in the event," Tarpley said.

Professors put particular emphasis in service-learning and believe that events like this give opportunities for college students to learn by serving others.

Today, Tarleton students are facilitating 15 contests for FFA students from more than 400 Texas chapters.

Members will build flower arrangements in the floriculture contest, yield grading beef, pork and lamb carcasses, determine soil profiles, identify insects and design landscapes.

"Our gratitude is deep for the Stephenville community, our students and staff and for the agri-science instructors across the state who bring their students to our campus," Tarpley said.