To make to the finals of the FFA American Star in Agri-business, Eric Miller took on quite a load. “I have commercial corn production, seed soybean production, poultry production with both broilers and show birds, as well as a lawn care business,” he told Brownfield Ag News at the National FFA Convention in Louisville, Ky. “It’s definitely kept me busy.” Miller took opportunities as they came his way. The poultry business began when he joined 4-H, the lawn care business when someone needed their lawn mowed. The agriculture enterprises came because his father farmed with his grandfather and Eric became enchanted with the business of farming.
Severe bee allergies prevented Cole Diggins’s four-year-old cousin from swimming where the insects swarmed. Diggins’s grandfather recommended cutting hedge apples and scattering them near the pool. It worked. “All the mud daubers left too and I was a little curious, so I started this experiment,” Diggins told Brownfield Ag News. Diggins, from Bronaugh, Missouri, won first in the FFA Environmental Services and Natural Resource Systems Division One competition in Louisville, Ky. His experiment proved that hedge apples, a somewhat unpleasant smelling green fruit, repels, but does not kill many insects. “I see this as something that could maybe help with colony collapse disorder,” said Diggins.
Eric Koehlmoos set out to determine what might yield the most ethanol – switch grass, prairie grass or wheat straw. The Paulina, Iowa FFA member not only found out that the grasses produce more ethanol than corn does, the project won him a prize at the FFA Agri-science Fair last week in Louisville, Kentucky.
Interestingly, and what made Koehlmoos curious, the grasses grow on marginal land, the same land on which wheat is grown. So Koehlmoos checked to see if wheat straw could produce enough ethanol to entice plants to be built where wheat is grown.
“Maybe then we could get the wheat straw production from your high productive lands and then get switch grass and prairie grass grown in marginal lands for ethanol production,” Koehlmoos told Brownfield Ag News last week in Louisville, Ky., where he awarded the prize.
Wheat straw doesn’t produce as much ethanol as the grasses do, but according to Koehlmoos, it’s still enough to make an ethanol production plant viable.
“Wheat straw could be used in very prime farm ground and be an added source of ethanol without competing with the food supply, while prairie grass and switch grass would work great for ethanol production in CRP lands or other marginal areas that really aren’t suited for agricultural production,” he said.
Koehlmoos talked to Brownfield right after he collected his prize in Louisville.
When school was out following Ben Niendick’s eighth grade year, he began making square straw bales.
“For me, this was a way to start my own business while not interfering with any of my dad’s enterprises,” Niendick told Brownfield Ag News at the National FFA Convention in Louisville, Ky.
The first summer, Niendick put up 1,600 bales and sold every one of them by the next fall. So far this fall, he’s sold about three-quarters of the 31,000 bales he made this past summer. That and other enterprises earned him the FFA National Proficiency Award in Agricultural Sales Entrepreneurship.
“I have 80 acres of rented row crops; I hope to expand that area of my SAE [supervised agricultural experience]. I also do feeder cattle backgrounding as well as finishing out feeder cattle and I hope to expand all those areas, and eventually make my living in production agriculture after college,” he said. “I’m a sophomore right now at Mizzou [The University of Missouri] majoring in ag business.”
Other than tacking a business card here and there or making his services known on Craig’s list, Niendick is low key about advertising. But he does not leave sales to chance.
“If I see a construction company doing a big project while I’m going down the road I might just stop and see who I need to talk to; this pipeline [currently under construction], I saw that it was coming through the state and got on the phone and made quite a few phone and was able to get ahold of that,” he said. “There’s plenty of opportunities to sell straw, you just kind of got to go out and find them.”
Niendick is from the Wellington-Napoleon FFA Chapter in Missouri.
Through the FFA, Riley Schwader not only helped is father grow corn and soybeans on their Howard, South Dakota farm, but he became involved with taking care of farm equipment.
“Working on a farm, I became interested in understanding how that equipment works, so I am pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan where I began to become more involved with research dealing with exhaust gas recirculation coolers,” Schwader told Brownfield Ag News during the National FFA Convention in Louisville, Ky.
Schwader’s research involves improving tractor engine efficiency. He put those skills to use as a design engineer for John Deere and built up his communication chops through offices he held at the Howard FFA Chapter. It resulted in him earning a Star finalist spot in Agriculture Placement. One of four finalists nationally for that Star, he didn’t win, but he looks forward to his next step.
“Upon graduation I hope to gain a job as an engineer at an agricultural equipment manufacturer and possibly eventually return to the family farm,” said Schwader.
Graduation from the University of Michigan is in May. Schwader plans to marry in June.
The FFA American Star Farmer has a drive to farm. Tyler Loschen farms in Northwest Illinois and does not come from a family farming background. In high school, Loschen began by farming 20 acres that he cash rented from a parcel his parents bought as an investment. Then a landlord, anxious to get a young farmer on his 160 acres, made a lease agreement with the then 16-year-old young man. Loschen remains grateful and aims to pay the favor forward.
“I’m hoping that as my FFA career kind of winds to an end that I can hopefully take some of my experiences and give back to those other students and hopefully inspire them to go ahead and grab ahold of something in FFA and to take them to places that they’d never dreamed possible,” he said.
Loschen recently bought another 40 acres to bring his farming acreage to about 400. Until he can assemble enough to farm full-time, he plans to use his college degree in the seed business.
Loschen recalled taking center stage at the National FFA Convention in disbelief about being named American Star Farmer.
“I know when I was standing up there and all my competitors, their videos, and I realized how competitive and how great it was just to be a finalist and then to named the winner is truly just a wonderful experience,” he said.
Before he was in FFA, Loschen began his career at age eight in 4-H with two bred gilts and a Simmental bred heifer.
Trenton Bemis of Humbird, Wisconsin, won the FFA American Star in Agricultural Placement. Bemis works for the same cranberry packing company where his grandfather has worked for 55 years and his father has worked for 25 years. The younger Bemis is going on five years with the Edlen Cranberry Company.
“It’s a lot of hard work and long hours, and it’s really labor intensive,” Bemis told Brownfield Ag News, “but I enjoy doing it every day, I enjoy being outside and that’s what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
Bemis, one of four FFA Star winners nationally, looks forward to a future packing cranberries for Ocean Spray. He credits the FFA for getting him to where he is.
“I’ve learned so much just in high school from all the ag classes that I’ve taken,” said Bemis. “I highly suggest kids get involved with FFA and take ag classes because it’s definitely benefited my career working on the cranberry marsh. Taking ag mechanics class and learning how to weld and things like that; these skills are very valuable to a young individual.”
In 2011, Bemis won a national FFA proficiency award for his work in cranberry production.
Hannah Crossen’s students were barely out of their seats following a general session of the 86th National FFA Convention when they began asking her what new projects they could take on or how they might improve their chapter banquet. That, Crossen told Brownfield Ag News, is what is important about having students at the National FFA Convention.
“So while they might see that on social media, when they actually get to see it awarded on stage and get to see those students in person, it definitely leaves an impression on them,” said Crossen, of the North Union FFA Chapter, Richwood, Ohio.
“We’ve been able to hear many inspiring things from the national FFA officers,” said Crossen’s student, Mike Plotner.
The North Union Chapter left the convention with more than inspiration. After making the top five in eight of the last 11 years, the chapter’s agronomy team took home the top prize for the first time this year.
“We’ve always been the bridesmaid,” said Jared Evans, the agronomy team coach at North Union. “It takes a little luck, but it takes a heck of a lot of hard work,” said Evans, about the win.
Evans coached agronomy team members Molly Bayer, Jordyn Rhodeback, Kolton Ingles and Austin Davis.
Top photo: Mike Plotner (left) and advisor Hannah Crossen of the North Union, Ohio, FFA Chapter at the 86th National FFA Convention, Louisville, Ky.
Bottom photo: North Union FFA Chapter, Ohio, winning agronomy team (from left) Molly Bayer, Jordyn Rhodeback, Kolton Ingles, Austin Davis and Coach Jared Evans, National FFA Convention, Louisville, Ky.
The 86th National FFA Convention ended Saturday with the naming of new officers to lead the youth organization in the coming year.
The Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville was bedlam until all six national officers were called. Each of 42 states fielded a single national officer candidate, so by the time a state was mentioned during the naming of the final six; little else was heard over the eruption of cheers.
During interviews with Brownfield Ag News, almost all of the winning candidates said that they look forward to forming relationships with FFA members around the country.
Aaron Zimmerman is a finalist for an American Star in Agribusiness award from the National FFA Organization.
He’s among sixteen American Star award finalists from throughout the U.S.
Zimmerman, 18, is a member of the Spencer High School FFA chapter in Spencer, Wis. Aaron’s father, Mark Zimmerman, is also his FFA advisor.
From an early age he’s been involved in raising and showing livestock.
“When I joined FFA in seventh grade, I got the chance to take over and work on our chapter FFA website,” Zimmerman told Brownfield Ag News, “and from there that really gave me an interest in website management and graphic design.”
Since then he’s worked to blend the two.
He is currently attending University of Wisconsin at River Falls majoring in animal science with hopes of obtaining a master’s degree and pursuing a career in beef cattle reproduction and genetics.