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 Ag Employee category.
The Young Agriculture Employee Award recognizes farm employees and ag professionals for their contributions to the success and long-term profitability of their workplace. Nominees are also judged on their leadership involvement in Farm Bureau, agriculture and the local community.
The 2023 state winner will receive $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.
The four finalists for MFB’s 2022 Young Farmer Agriculture Employee Award are:
Drew Bordner — St. Joseph
Drew Bordner works for RKA Farms, raising 2,500 acres of seed corn and row crops in Kalamazoo County. Approximately half of the acreage goes into seed corn production each year, with the remainder rotating between commercial corn and soybeans.
“When I started in 2019, I brought with me experience from three other crop farms, none of which included having operated any planters,” Bordner said. “My knack for learning new things allowed me to quickly jump into the planter seat and take on the majority of soybean planting responsibilities while others focused on commercial and seed corn planting.”
RKA also offers him room to flex his creativity.
“The ability to put my ingenuity in fabrication to good use 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.”
Among Bordner’s future plans is developing a purebred Red Angus herd partnership currently in the early stages.
He also aspires to continued Farm Bureau leadership roles and involvement, having started with St. Joseph County’s Young Farmer program. He credits Farm Bureau involvement 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 that impact us in so many ways; and being part of a voice heard from our local communities to the national stage… Membership and involvement in the Farm Bureau organization is invaluable.”
Madison Kenny — Midland
Madison Kenny is part of a family farm operating in Midland and Saginaw counties, raising corn, soybeans, sugar beets and pickles. She works alongside her dad, uncle, two cousins, sister and non-family members essential to the business’ success.
Asked about what accomplishments have brought her to her current position in the industry, she cites the pan-agriculture advocacy entity Farm Bureau built with a host of commodity group allies.
“I am proud of my work with Michigan Ag Council,” Kenny said. “The Ag Council’s Michigan GROWN, Michigan GREAT brand highlights the diverse agricultural commodities of Michigan.”
Specifically, Kenny stars in an Ag Council video walking viewers through the pickle production process, from harvest to the point they’re put in jars for grocery store shelves.
“I hope to continue contributing to the success of our farm by promoting growth through new and innovative practices,” she said. “My goal is to help sustain and improve our operation so one day the sixth generation can do the same for the seventh.”
She credits Farm Bureau for plugging her into a statewide peer network and connecting with otherwise unattainable resources.
“Farm Bureau has provided me with the ability to network and create long-lasting connections with other farmers and agriculture professionals,” she said. “It has also opened up a world of resources for myself and our operation that otherwise we wouldn’t be privy to.”
Kyle Rasch — Ottawa
Kyle Rasch manages a 240-acre apple orchard with his parents in Ottawa County, where he noticed early a language barrier impairing worker relations and cutting into the farm’s efficiencies.
“Being able to speak Spanish is key to our farm’s success,” he said. “It’s something I’m especially proud of since I will be the first family member in six generations to bridge the gap separating us from our workers. I’ve worked hard on it and it’s paying huge dividends.”
His perspective includes a deep appreciation for the dedication his predecessors invested in the business.
“I take great pride in being the sixth generation,” he said, pledging to continue rounding out his experience and taking on challenging discussions, including the bigger-picture conversations Farm Bureau joins on behalf of its members.
Moving forward he anticipates increased focus on fresh consumer trends and other key forces influencing the tree fruit industry.
“I aim to continue having my eye on new developments and issues in agriculture — and to continue doing my part to advocate for my industry.”
For Rasch, the greatest value of Farm Bureau membership is in having his voice represented and amplified, both legislatively in Lansing and D.C., and when it comes to informing everyday consumers about the vital work farmers do.
Chelsea Smith — Missaukee
Chelsea Smith works as a dairy herd information specialist for CentralStar Cooperative, helping dairies enhance profitability through improved recordkeeping, testing and artificial insemination services.
Back home Smith farms with her parents, sister, husband and their three children, raising beef cattle, lambs, chickens and honeybees. Among her most rewarding roles involves helping area young people with livestock projects.
“I plan to keep helping youth in our community learn about showing and raising animals,” she said. “I enjoy helping them to learn responsibility and leadership. I’m also mentoring older kids about becoming Farm Bureau members, when they’re done with 4-H, so they can stay involved and engaged in agriculture.”
Moving forward Smith aims to explore other Farm Bureau programs, including those that will stretch her beyond her comfort zone.
“I really enjoy Ag in the Classroom and would like to serve on the state Promotion & Education committee, building my own knowledge and learning new skills to bring back home to my community.”
Every direction she turns, Farm Bureau is there extending a helping hand.
“Over the years I’ve gained so much value from my Farm Bureau membership,” Smith said. “It’s helped me and on my own farm and in my work life. You gain so much through new connections and knowledge — it’s been so rewarding.”
Follow the MFB Facebook page this week for announcements of the remaining finalists — and the overall winners this Friday, April 7.