Michigan Farm Bureau is honored to recognize the up-and-coming leaders of Michigan agriculture. All 16 finalists for MFB’s 2023 Young Farmer Awards have been announced, including four in the Achievement category.
The Young Farmer Achievement Award recognizes successful young farmers who derive most of their income from an owned production agriculture enterprise and showcases their achievements in the business of farming (applicants may apply as a couple or an individual).
The 2023 state winner will receive a lease on a Kubota tractor; a $1,000 AgroLiquid gift certificate; and an all-expense paid trip to the AFBF Annual Meeting to compete in the national competition.
The four finalists for MFB’s 2023 Young Farmer Achievement Award are:
Matthew and Alisha Gibson — Kalamazoo
Matt and Alisha Gibson farm in Kalamazoo County, operating a hog-finishing facility and raising corn and soybeans. As the farm’s sole proprietor, Matt is self-employed while Alisha works as an assurance manager at Plante Moran, an accounting firm providing audit, tax, consulting and wealth-management services to clients in a variety of industries, with Alisha specializing in the higher-education and non-profit sectors.
Purchasing their property and branching out to farm on their own rank as their proudest achievements. Matt bought the hog-finishing component when he was just 18. Together they aim to continue expanding their operation, building a sustainable future for their family while improving practices to gain efficiencies moving forward.
They credit Farm Bureau with helping them build a network of like-minded peers across the state and enriching their sense of community, both in their own neighborhood and across the southwestern Lower Peninsula.
“We value the opportunity to connect with others from around the state, opportunities to promote Michigan agriculture and to learn new things to better our future.”
Mitch and Brandie Kline — Kalamazoo
Mitch and Brandie Kline farm near Scotts in Kalamazoo County, raising 1,200 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and hay. They also have a custom seed-corn harvesting business picking upwards of 2,500 acres annually.
Off the farm Brandie teaches fourth grade. On the farm she and Mitch employ four full-timers and several seasonal workers.
“Our team is essential to the success and growth of our farm,” they say, with Mitch managing day-to-day operations while Brandie handles the office end.
“We're proud of the success of our hay operation and seed-corn harvesting,” Mitch said. “We’re shipping hay nationally, which has greatly supported our business growth. Seed-corn harvesting started as a dream and turned into a reality that took the farm to the next level.”
Moving forward they anticipate buying more of their own farm ground and setting up an operations headquarters including barns and a house.
Both credit Farm Bureau with helping them get their footing in the industry.
“Our Farm Bureau membership is invaluable,” Mitch said. “We’ve learned so much in the past six years since we started getting involved. We’ve made new friendships across the state, grown professionally and just learned so much.”
Brayton Lehman — Ionia
Ionia County’s Brayton Lehman farms near Portland, raising more than 500 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat — and custom harvesting twice that acreage for other growers. As a first-generation farmer, he takes pride in working his way into the industry as a newcomer.
“I’m most proud of taking the leap to purchase my first combine in high school, which allowed me to establish my custom-harvesting business,” he said. “From there I was able to purchase my first farm, begin custom planting and spraying, rent additional acres and build my seed dealership.
“I’m proud of the growth I’ve been able to achieve in my operation as well as the knowledge I’ve gained. I hope to continue to grow in these areas and hone my expertise to add value to my farm and those I provide services to.
Similarly, continuing both expansion and efficiencies summarize Lehman’s goals.
“I hope to grow the size of my farming operation to support both my family and generations to come,” Lehman said. “I plan to utilize technology, build grain storage and leverage grain marketing to accomplish my goals.”
Informing that progress along the way, his involvement in Farm Bureau is returning dividends.
“Farm Bureau membership provides a vast toolbox through the knowledge and community of its members,” Lehman said. “Getting involved opened my eyes to how the organization vouches for agriculture and connects with the public. I feel supported.”
Aaron Schade — Mason
Alongside his dad and siblings, Aaron Schade helps raise 1,500 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat, asparagus and squash. Beyond that Aaron and his wife farm 200 acres of row crops on their own and run a custom applicating business in surrounding counties.
I’d say I’m most proud of taking a leap of faith and purchasing my own farmland at 19 then my first sprayer,” Schade said, “and seeing the progression of how I’ve gotten to where I am today.
Also looking forward Schade hopes to expand his farm, maintain the spray business and take on more responsibilities on the larger family operation, alongside his siblings.
Informed by a family tradition of Farm Bureau involvement, Schade credits the organization’s role in supporting the launch of his own farming career and advocating for the industry’s best interests.
“To me, the value of Farm Bureau membership is in the networking opportunities,” he said, “and the ability to influence policy at local, state and national levels.”
Follow the MFB Facebook page this week for announcements of the remaining finalists — and the overall winners this Friday, April 7.