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2024 Young Farmer Excellence finalists announced

The Excellence in Agriculture Award is designed to recognize young farmers for their involvement in agriculture, leadership ability and participation in Farm Bureau. Image credit: Michigan Farm Bureau
Date Posted: April 11, 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 Excellence in Agriculture category.

The Excellence in Agriculture Award is designed to recognize young farmers for their involvement in agriculture, leadership ability and participation in Farm Bureau (applicants may apply as a couple or an individual).

The 2024 state winner will receive a three-month lease on 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. 

The four finalists for MFB’s 2024 Young Farmer Excellence in Agriculture Award are:

Julia Chamberlain — Ingham

Julia Chamberlain portrait.

Ingham County’s Julia Chamberlain works as a customer success representative at Neogen, a Lansing-based food-safety and genomics testing company. She works with food manufacturers and their quality teams to implement best practices for maintaining a safe and secure food supply chain.

Chamberlain’s career is taking shape atop a strong agricultural foundation.

“For my entire life, I’ve been involved in organizations such as FFA, Farm Bureau and 4-H — all while being involved in my family farm,” she said. “Their importance has carried with me into adulthood as I prioritize volunteering for the organizations that helped me get where I am today.”

Chamberlain attributes much of her success to solid mentoring, and feels driven to honor that background by paying the same forward.

“I’m proud of my dedication to mentoring future generations of the agriculture industry. Being involved with students, whether in high school or at Michigan State, is an absolute joy.”

As a Spartan herself Chamberlain felt fortunate to have benefitted from leaders who were actively invested in her success, and who devoted their time to that goal.

“I hope to be that for those who make up the future of agriculture,” she said. “Being involved in my community is incredibly rewarding. I’ve made connections within agriculture and other industries through various organizations.

“Farm Bureau has provided me with countless opportunities to better myself professionally by attending conferences and workshops, as well as diversify my network of those in the agriculture industry.”

Erica Drake — Washtenaw

Erica Drake portrait.

By day Erica Drake is a public works technician with the City of Ann Arbor’s water utilities, ensuring key components of the city’s water system — fresh water distribution, storm water filtration, drainage and sewers — are all flowing in the right directions.

But home is Drakelan Farms, where alongside her parents and brother she helps raise direct-market beef and almost 200 acres of corn, soybeans, barley and hay. Ensuring the family farm grows and remains viable for future generations is tops on her lifetime to-do list, as is investing in providing those future farmers with a solid foundation.

“One of the accomplishments I’m most proud of is being a 4-H leader,” Drake said. “Sharing my passion for agriculture with our future leaders, and seeing them grow and flourish, is near and dear to my heart.”

As her own career path has come into view, she attributes to Farm Bureau much of the guidance that’s informed her progress to date.

“Farm Bureau is a support system, a sounding block, a networking powerhouse and a voice for people who have their boots on, living their daily lives in the community and agriculture industry,” Drake said. “Being a Farm Bureau member opens many doors for gaining knowledge, trying new things and connecting with people who have experienced similar trials and successes.”

Darcy Lipskey — Sanilac

Darcy Lipskey portrait.

Sixth-generation farmer Darcy Lipskey raises corn, wheat, dry beans and alfalfa hay to feed and bed her family’s Angus cow/calf operation near Minden City in Sanilac County. She farms with her father, brother and grandpa, but they don’t know about the small herd of Boer goats Darcy snuck in, so keep that part under your hat.

“When I’m not on the farm I work for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, helping landowners enhance conservation efforts by identifying resource concerns,” she said.

A passionate community supporter, Lipskey helped establish Freeze Out Hunger, a two-pronged attack on food insecurity that supplies protein to several area food pantries — and the vital freezer space needed to store it — all while supporting local agriculture, since that protein comes from animals purchased at the county fair.

“It’s been truly heartening to see the positive outcomes that’ve resulted from our efforts,” she said. “Since December of 2022 we have placed eight freezers in eight food pantries spread across the county — and have filled them multiple times.”

The ethic of selfless service that permeates Lipskey’s farm and community life has strong parallels in her Farm Bureau membership. Another goal sees her bridging the gap between Farm Bureau and youth organizations like 4-H and FFA.

“They’re our next leaders,” she said — and she wants them to reap the same benefits she’s found in the organization. “Farm Bureau allows me to have a voice at the table and to speak confidently on sometimes difficult subjects.”

Allan Robinette — Kent

Allan Robinette portrait.

Kent County fruit grower Allan Robinette farms off the northeast corner of Grand Rapids with his father and a pair of uncles. His primary role is orchard manager on the operation, which consists of 15 acres of apples, six of sweet cherries and two acres of peaches.

“I’m most proud of completing ProFILE — Michigan Farm Bureau’s Institute for Leadership Education — and MFB’s Academy for Political Leadership,” he said.

Robinette’s near-term priorities include ownership in his family farm, expanding his Farm Bureau involvement, and perhaps serving in local government — goals inextricably linked together.

“Farm Bureau provides the opportunity to advocate for our industry as a strong, unified voice,” he said. “Having grown up disconnected from other farmers, my Farm Bureau membership has afforded me countless opportunities to network with peers from across the state and the country.

Megan Sprague headshot

Megan Sprague

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