GRAND RAPIDS — Five exemplary young farmers will be honored for their achievements Nov. 28 at Michigan Farm Bureau’s (MFB) 2017 Annual Meeting. First named during National Agriculture Week in March, this year’s recipients of MFB’s Young Farmer Awards will be recognized one last time for their outstanding accomplishments in four award categories.
Young Farmer Awards recognize successful young agriculturalists and couples from county Farm Bureaus for outstanding achievement in their professions and leadership in the agricultural community.
Snapshots of the winners in all four categories:
YOUNG FARMER ACHIEVEMENT — Huron County cattleman and cash crop farmer John Strieter earned this year’s achievement award, which recognizes a successful young Farm Bureau member or married couple for outstanding achievement in the business of farming and leadership in the agricultural community. Applicants are judged on their farm management ability and involvement in Farm Bureau and other organizations.
Strieter started farming in high school, investing money raised from selling 4-H projects into a fledgling hay business, beginning with 40 acres rented from his grandmother. Since then he’s steadily added acreage; today he raises more than 3,000 acres of hay, corn, soybeans, sugar beets and wheat—and manages a small herd of beef cattle.
Hay for both dairy and equine markets remains central to his business, which includes a fleet of trucks and implements, and six custom-designed storage buildings. Strieter has also developed a profitable sideline in straw, harvesting approximately 7,500 acres annually.
MFB’s Young Farmer Achievement Award winner receives 250 hours free use of a Kubota M-Series tractor, including a matched loader as needed, an AgroLiquid gift certificate and a paid trip to compete in national competition at the AFBF 99th Annual Meeting, sponsored by the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture.
The other achievement Award finalists were Nathan and Amy Engelhard, Tuscola County; Terry Page, Ionia County; and Greg Shooks, Antrim County.
YOUNG AGRICULTURE EMPLOYEE — Sanilac County farmer Scott Thomas earned MFB’s 2017 Young Farmer Agriculture Employee Award in recognition of his contributions to the success and long-term profitability of his employer’s business. Nominees are also judged on their leadership involvement in Farm Bureau, agriculture and their community.
Thomas works on a 1,200-acre farm near Brown City, raising corn, soybeans, wheat and sugar beets. He personally manages nearly every aspect of the operation, including planting, spraying, harvesting and employee management. He also manages seed sales and distribution though a warehouse that moves more than 17,000 units of soybeans and 5,000 units of corn seed every year.
Thomas personally monitors the condition of ripening crops and harvested grain stocks to minimize potential moisture issues and maximize the quality of those grains—and therefore their value. So numerous are the efficiencies implemented on his watch that they enable him to run the operation almost single-handedly—exactly what he did recently when medical issues took his employer out of commission for nearly an entire calendar year.
The Young Farmer Agriculture Employee Award winner receives a GreenMark Equipment tractor lease, AgroLiquid gift certificate and a paid trip to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) Young Farmers and Ranchers Leadership Conference, sponsored by the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture.
This year’s other Agriculture Employee Award finalists were Caleb Herrygers, Oceana County; Joe Packard, Washtenaw County; and Katelyn Packard, Washtenaw County.
YOUNG AGRICULTURE LEADER — Mecosta County farm market manager and agritourism entrepreneur Natalie Pennington earned this year’s leader award for her outstanding leadership in Farm Bureau, agriculture and her local community.
From humble beginnings as a roadside table strewn with vegetables, Pennington’s market has bloomed into an agricultural destination marketing fresh produce, meat, eggs, honey, maple syrup, greenhouse plants, flowers and local crafts. The enterprise’s inedible components have also grown to include a haunted maze and pumpkin patch, pedal tractors, ropes course and petting farm.
In 2013 she incorporated a community-supported agriculture (CSA) sideline after a small, approving test group led to agreements supplying nearby hospitals, factories and schools. The latest addition is a mobile farm-to-table kitchen used at on-site dinner events and producing the market’s daily supply of baked goods.
The farm’s future will focus on growth, beginning with expanded production of fruits, vegetables and livestock. Dairy production and processing is being carefully considered, as are cider mill, meat processing and bakery facilities.
The Young Agriculture Leader winner receives a New Holland compact tractor or Rustler utility vehicle lease from Burnips Equipment, an AgroLiquid gift certificate and a paid trip to the AFBF 99th Annual Meeting, sponsored by the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture.
The other leader-award finalists were Rita Herford, Huron County; Blake Gordon, Sanilac County; and Jarris Rubingh, Antrim County.
EXCELLENCE IN AGRICULTURE — Kevin and Sarah Messing earned this year’s excellence award, designed to recognize young farmers (individuals or married couples) who do not derive the majority of their income from a personally owned farm business but who actively contribute to and grow through their involvement in Farm Bureau and agriculture. The Huron County newlyweds share backgrounds in dairy farming, 4-H and FFA, land-grant degrees on the technical side of agriculture.
Sarah is a cattle and equine business manager, promoting Zoetis-brand animal health products to farmers and veterinarians. She also coaches producers on proper vaccine protocols, herd record analysis and cost-saving opportunities.
Kevin is an agronomic and administrative consultant for Michigan Sugar Company, working with 80 grower-owners raising 15,000 acres of sugar beets. He also manages the personnel and operations of two beet-receiving locations to ensure sound, efficient over-winter storage.
Outside their day jobs, the Messings run a small crop farm, with a portion of the production dedicated to high-value, non-traditional crops for direct marketing to consumers and restaurants—niche production that’s both lucrative and conducive to broaching discussions about modern food production.
Together they share a common passion for uplifting agriculture’s public perception and informing everyday consumers about food production. Their efforts reflect a priority to combat misinformation skewing consumers’ perceptions of farming practices.
The Excellence in Agriculture winner receives a Michigan CAT skid-steer lease, AgroLiquid gift certificate and a paid trip to the AFBF 99th Annual Meeting to compete in the YF&R Excellence in Agriculture Award national competition, sponsored by the Michigan Foundation for Agriculture.
The other excellence-award finalists were Chad and Beth Gruden, Gratiot County; Becky Heim, Jackson County; and Claire White, Eaton County.
Contact: Alex Schnabelrauch, 517-679-5444
NOTE: Visit here for photos from the awards ceremony. For more information after Nov. 30, contact Alex Schnabelrauch, 517-679-5444.