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Bob Ohlensehlen hoped enrollees in his 4-H dairy project could pay their expenses and make a few dollars.

"As it's turned out, they paid their expenses, made quite a few dollars and learned a great deal about the dairy industry," he says.Ohlensehlen, the University of Idaho Extension agricultural agent in Twin Falls County, is coordinating one of a series of innovative 4-H projects giving kids practical experience while they earn some money.

The dairy project, which started in 1991, depends heavily on local producers who helped design it and are making it work.

Rather than buying a dairy calf in early July and grooming it for a September fair, 4-H participants select their calves based on breeding and productivity records in April and keep them for 17 months.

By the following September, the 4-Hers have learned dairy health, nutrition and reproduction. Their heifers - about ready to calve and join the milking string - are bought by local dairymen. Sixty students are enrolled in the dairy project.

Bob Vodraska, Ohlensehlen's colleague in Twin Falls, started a 4-H malting barley project in 1991. A half-dozen students contract with Coors for roughly 10 acres of barley each. In both cases, demand for the projects exceeds supply.

Dave Dougherty, a Coors agronomist in Buhl, says the 4-H malting barley project has been "a very, very rewarding program at both ends." The participants meet twice a month with leader Gerald Orthel to absorb every detail of top-quality barley production.

"I enjoy them," Dougherty says. "They're very inquisitive, they want to do a good job, they're very thorough, very businesslike and real professional to deal with."

Justin Lanting, a junior at Filer High School, made $1,000 on his malting barley contract last year after paying his production bills and splitting profits with his landlord grandfather.

Orthel says Lanting's profits aren't unusual. In fact, participants in the malting barley project are averaging between $1,000 and $1,500 net income annually.

But since so many 4-Hers plan to pursue other careers, Orthel says his primary purpose isn't developing income-producing farmers-to-be. "It's to develop intellectually thinking young kids . . . who've learned how to analyze processes, no matter what they are."

Andrea Young, a junior at Minico High School in Rupert, has contracted with The Amalgamated Sugar Co. for the past five years as part of a 4-H sugarbeet project.

"I've learned what it takes to farm, that it isn't something that just happens," Young said. "It's very complicated."

Extension agent Ivan Hopkins said the immediate reward for Mini-Cassia 4-Hers participating in the 9-year-old sugarbeet project is up to $250 an acre. For those contracting potatoes with Ore-Ida Foods Inc., it's up to $300 an acre.

But long-term, what they're gaining is crop management experience from contract signing through harvest.

In Burley, Ore-Ida fieldman Jerry Swisher is in his fifth year of supervising 4-H potato contracts. He says the kids keep such good records that "it's made the parents look at their own costs."