Outstanding Young Farmers who competed across four categories — Achievement, Employee, Leader and Excellence — have been announced as winners of Michigan Farm Bureau’s (MFB) 2023 Young Farmer Awards: Elaine Palm, Drew Bordner, Mitch and Brandie Kline, and Chris and Jackie Sanford.
Every year Michigan’s best young farmers, ages 18-35, face off in categories geared toward measuring their agricultural involvement, leadership and achievements.
“Our Young Farmer Award winners and finalists are passionate agriculture leaders who generously promote and support Michigan’s farm sector,” said Megan Sprague, MFB’s Young Farmer program specialist. “We feel grateful these finalists devote their time and talents every day toward the betterment of Michigan agriculture.”
Achievement: Mitch and Brandie Kline
The Young Farmer Achievement Award recognizes successful young farmers — individuals or couples — who derive most of their income from an owned production agriculture enterprise and showcases their achievements in the business of farming.
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.”
The other three Achievement finalists were Matthew and Alisha Gibson (Kalamazoo County), Brayton Lehman (Ionia) and Aaron Schade (Mason).
As the state winner, Mitch and Brandie 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.
Employee: Drew Bordner
The Young Agriculture Employee Award recognizes farm employees and ag professionals for their contributions to the success of their workplace, and their leadership involvement in Farm Bureau, agriculture and the local community.
Bordner works for RKA Farms, raising 2,500 acres of seed corn and row crops in Kalamazoo County. Approximately half of the acreage goes to seed corn production, with the remainder rotating between commercial corn and soybeans.
“When I started I brought experience from three other crop farms, none of which included operating planters,” Bordner said. “My knack for learning new things allowed me to jump into the planter and take on soybean planting while others focused on commercial and seed corn.”
RKA also offers him room to flex his creativity.
“My ingenuity in fabrication has been an improvement around the farm,” he said. “I’m often given an idea of what my boss is looking for, then make it happen however works best, whether starting from scratch or modifying existing equipment.”
Moving forward Bordner hopes to develop a purebred Red Angus herd. He also means to continue his Farm Bureau involvement, starting with St. Joseph’s Young Farmer program. He credits the organization with providing opportunities to grow his strengths and expand his peer network.
“The opportunities to learn and grow as a Young Farmer; the lifelong friendships and connections; and being part of a voice heard from our local communities to the national stage… Membership and involvement in Farm Bureau is invaluable.”
The other three Employee finalists were Madison Kenny (Midland County), Kyle Rasch (Ottawa) and Chelsea Smith (Missaukee).
As the state winner, Bordner receives $5,000 off the first payment of a lease or installment on a 100-horsepower or larger tractor from GreenMark Equipment; a $1,000 AgroLiquid gift certificate; and an all-expense paid trip to the AFBF Young Farmers & Ranchers Leadership Conference.
Leader: Elaine Palm
The Young Agriculture Leader Award honors successful young agriculturalists who earn most of their income from a farm operation for their outstanding leadership in Farm Bureau, farming and throughout the agricultural community.
Integral to her family’s sheep business, Palm farms with her parents — plus her husband and their young daughter when more hands are needed. They maintain a 400-head base flock for meat and breeding stock, raise forages and supply hay to nearby horse and cattle farms.
Beyond the farm she indulges in her love for informing non-farmers about modern agriculture.
“Inviting people for tours is a personal passion — opening our barn doors to help people learn about modern farming,” she said. Examples include hosting U.S. Senator Gary Peters during his statewide summer motorcycle tour; a “First Friday Farm Tour” for consumers with Michigan State University Extension; and an American Lamb Summit tour.
“I’ve also enjoyed leading groups through multi-stop events to help them discover the different practices used by farmers across the state. I love being part of amplifying farmers’ voices.”
Her agenda includes continued community involvement; fighting food insecurity; bulking up her leadership resume; and growing her farm business.
Behind it all is the Farm Bureau family she leans on for support.
“Farm Bureau is a great network,” she said. “As a business owner with no employees, being a member makes me feel like I have coworkers to share ideas with and learn from.”
The other three Leader Award finalists were Emily Boeve (Ottawa County), John Bowsky (Sanilac) and Allison Schafer (Clinton).
As the state winner, Palm receives a lease on a New Holland compact tractor or utility vehicle from Burnips Equipment; a $1,000 AgroLiquid Certificate; and an all-expense paid trip to the AFBF Young Farmers & Ranchers Leadership Conference.
Excellence: Chris and Jackie Sanford
The Excellence in Agriculture Award is designed to recognize young farmers — individuals or couples — for their involvement in agriculture, leadership ability and participation in Farm Bureau.
Jackson County farmers Chris and Jackie Sanford operate Sanford Family Beef, raising beef cattle and pigs and selling meat cuts directly to customers from their on-farm store. Rounding out the family are sons Colt and Lane.
By day Chris works for AgriKing as a beef and dairy nutritionist; Jackie is a senior chattel appraiser for Greenstone Farm Credit Services.
Their proudest achievements as farmers and involved community members have come in advocating for key quality-of-life components, including affordable higher-education options and community-based curricula.
“Working to find the best version of ourselves as parents, spouses and farmers by changing our mindset in our physical and mental health.”
The same ethic informs their ambitions moving forward.
“We will lead by example for the next generation of farmers to see that you can make farming a career of joy, calm and fulfillment,” they said. “It doesn’t have to be a life full of anxiety, depression or burnout in order to succeed.”
Together they find much of the motivation behind these goals wired into their Farm Bureau membership.
“Farm Bureau has given us the platform to help guide and impact our sons’ futures — and future generations — to thrive in agriculture.”
The other three Excellence finalists were Marcia Cripps (St. Joseph County), Darcy Lipskey (Sanilac) and Allan Robinette (Kent).
As the state winner, Chris and Jackie receive a three-month lease of a Michigan CAT skid-steer; a $1,000 AgroLiquid gift certificate; and an all-expense paid trip to the AFBF Annual Meeting to compete in the national competition.