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2024 Young Farmer Achievement finalists announced

The Young Farmer Achievement Award recognizes successful young farmers who derive a majority of their income from an owned production agriculture enterprise and showcases their achievements in the business of farming. Image credit: Courtesy photos
Date Posted: April 8, 2024

Michigan Farm Bureau is honored to recognize the up-and-coming leaders of Michigan agriculture. All 16 finalists for MFB’s 2024 Young Farmer Awards have been announced, including four in the Achievement category.

The Young Farmer Achievement Award recognizes successful young farmers who derive a majority 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 2024 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 2024 Young Farmer Achievement Award are:

Nathan Engelhard — Tuscola

Portrait of Nathan Engelhard with his wife and small child.

It took time, but losing the farm he grew up on helped Nathan Engelhard realize farming was in his blood, and he’s spent his adult life to date building an operation he can now call his own. From a humble fresh start — loans and rented equipment — he’s grown the operation from 146 acres to now almost ten times that size.

His wife Amy attests to her husband’s “stubborn perseverance that has allowed him to not become easily dismayed when things don’t turn out perfect in the beginning.” Together they strive to grow the businesses into something worth handing down to a new generation when the time comes.

Today that means corn, soybeans and wheat — all organic — as a sole proprietor owning his own equipment. Doing custom work led to growth opportunities, then to diversification in the form of a trucking fleet and grain storage.

“Putting up grain bins has been a huge tool,” Engelhard said. “The ability to store crops and dry grains while keeping our operation moving, after elevators close, has been a game-changer.”

As an active member of the Tuscola County Farm Bureau, including three years as president, Engelhard has been part of consumer outreach and youth education activities alongside Amy.

“Farm Bureau membership gives you the opportunity to get involved and to have your voice heard,” he said.

Outside agriculture he’s involved in his church and local school board.

Matt and Alisha Gibson — Kalamazoo

Portrait of Matt and Alisha Gibson.

Matt and Alisha Gibson farm in Kalamazoo County, operating an 800-head hog-finishing facility and raising 1,100 acres of corn and soybeans. Matt and his uncle farm together under an LLC they created in 2023, 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 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.

“We aim to continue incorporating different management practices to maximize profits and yields to help combat challenging market trends,” they said. “We also want to be able to build a sustainable future for our family.”

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.”

Brayton Lehman — Ionia

Portrait of Brayton Lehman.

Ionia County’s Brayton Lehman farms near Portland, raising more than 700 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat — and custom harvesting another 1,000 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.”

In an impressively short time frame he’s managed to achieve the holy grail of farming full time.

“I’m proud of the growth I’ve been able to achieve in my operation as well as the knowledge I’ve gained.

“I am the farm owner and farm on my own,” Lehman said. “I’m self-sufficient and have built a complete equipment line,” meaning he’s able to cover every stage of the production year, from planting and spraying to harvest and transport.

“Each year I apply at least one new approach, working toward increasing time efficiency, yield potential and greatest return. As a result I’ve been able to expand my operation each year,” he said. “As my operation grows, I hope to build a grain system to expand my marketing ability and counter volatility.”

Lehman credits increased involvement with Farm Bureau in helping his progress.

“My Farm Bureau membership provides great value both on and off the farm through the vast network and relationships available. If there is a void in agriculture, I know I can rely on Farm Bureau to provide the resources necessary.”

Zachary Wagner — Clinton

Portrait of Zach Wagner.

Clinton County’s Zach Wagner grows approximately 3,100 acres of corn, soybeans, and wheat. In addition, he does some custom harvesting.

“I work for myself but my wife helps wherever needed,” he said. “She’s my ‘chaos coordinator’ and I wouldn’t be where I am today without all of her support!”

As a first-generation farmer who started with just 14 acres, Wagner takes understandable pride in achieving full-time-farmer status.

“I’m proud of how far I’ve come and the knowledge I’ve gained along the way,” he said. “Year by year my operation has grown. From being told ‘You can’t start a farm from nothing anymore,’ I’m proud to be able to do what I love every day.

“My goal for the future is to continue improving my farming practices and efficiencies, to preserve the land and the operation for the future.”

He values his Farm Bureau membership for plugging him into a statewide network of like-minded peers: “Through Farm Bureau I’ve gained an additional network to not only exchange ideas but also advocate for agriculture.”

Megan Sprague headshot

Megan Sprague

Young Farmer Programs Specialist
517-679-5658 [email protected]