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Michigan Young Farmer Awards, Discussion Meet winners compete on national stage

Pictured from left to right are MFB Young Farmer Excellence in Agriculture winners Chris and Jackie Sanford, Discussion Meet winner Beth Wernette and Achievement award winners Brandie and Mitch Kline. Image credit: Michigan Farm Bureau
Date Posted: January 23, 2024

A talented group of five young farmers from Michigan squared off with their counterparts from across the country at AFBF’s 105th American Farm Bureau Convention, being held in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Taking part in the Young Farmer Discussion Meet, Excellence in Agriculture, and Achievement Awards, Beth Wernette, Chris and Jackie Sanford and Mitch and Brandie Kline, respectively all advanced past the initial rounds in their competition.

“We’re incredibly proud of this outstanding group of young farmers, and are inspired by their skills, stories and amazing contributions to Michigan agriculture,” said MFB President Carl Bednarski.

“The preparation they put into their presentations and discussion meet skills is truly impressive and received well deserved recognition from their peers and judges at the national level.”

Discussion Meet

Mecosta County Farm Bureau member Beth Wernette advanced to the sweet 16 round of the Discussion Meet competition.

Wernette raises beef cattle outside Remus and graduated from ProFILE, MFB’s elite leadership development program for young farmers in 2023.

In the second round of competition, Wernette shared her thoughts on how Farm Bureau can help farmers access market-based solutions that advance sustainability goals without restricting their ability to stock America’s pantries and maintain profitability.

She also used her expertise as a farm credit appraiser for GreenStone Farm Credit Services in a discussion on what tools are available or could be introduced to help young people access financial resources — and make sound financial decisions — to run their farms.

“As a young farmer, I'm looking to start purchasing a farm, so this is something that's going to be affecting me in my near life and affected a lot of my friends in terms of getting the financing to be able to go out and purchase what they need to start farming,” Wernette told Michigan Farm News.

As the state-level winner, Wernette earned a $2,000 cash prize sponsored by AIS Equipment.

“I think you really get a well-rounded conversation when you get to participate in it and get to see what's happening in other states,” Wernette added.

“You can learn from their programs and their Farm Bureaus, along with some issues that are really more hard hitting in different parts of the country. I don’t think there's a single discussion meet I’ve participated in that I haven't learned something new.”

Excellence in Agriculture Award

Michigan Farm Bureau’s 2023 Young Farmer Excellence in Agriculture Award winners Chris and Jackie Sanford were selected as top 10 finalists for the national award after sharing their story of building a direct-to-consumer meat business on their farm in Parma.

Over the course of their 25-minute presentation, the Jackson County Farm Bureau members detailed their background as high school sweethearts who bought their 80-acre farm in 2019 where they live today with their two sons. The Sanfords raised and finished close to 100 head of cattle last year, which were fed from what’s grown on their farm and additional land they rent for custom work.

“This land and this way of life is the legacy we want to leave our boys,” Jackie said during the presentation.

“Our boys are now the seventh generation to make this land their playground. With what started as a rented barn and farmers markets turned into us bringing our customers to our farm, our farm store and farm events.”

Chris works for AgriKing as a beef and dairy nutritionist, and Jackie is a senior chattel appraiser for GreenStone Farm Credit Services. They said the award and competing on the national stage helped them reflect on their success together in new ways.

“This award isn’t so much about the recognition, it's just being able to put it all down on paper and share our story,” Chris said after the presentation.

As the state winner of the Excellence in Agriculture Award — which recognizes young farmers for their involvement in agriculture, leadership ability and participation in Farm Bureau — the Sanfords received a three-month lease of a Michigan CAT skid-steer and a $1,000 AgroLiquid gift certificate.

Young Farmer Achievement Award

Kalamazoo County Farm Bureau members Mitch and Brandie Kline, MFB’s 2023 Young Farmer Achievement winners, were among the top 10 finalists for the national award.

The 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.

The Klines started with 10 acres but now operate roughly 1,200 acres of hay, corn, wheat and soybeans in Scotts, near Kalamazoo. They also run a custom seed-corn harvesting business — picking upwards of 2,500 acres annually — and a trucking business.

“Sometimes when you're farming, you're still in the motions of doing the day to day and getting the job done and you don't see the milestones that you've made,” Brandie said, adding that their business has skyrocketed since winning the state-level award.

“What we've learned about ourselves, our farm and our success has been paramount. That’s been empowering for us and has refreshed our goals, our future and our vision.”

As the state winners, the Klines received a lease on a Kubota tractor and a $1,000 AgroLiquid gift certificate.

See the awards recognitions in the video below.

Michigan Young Farmer Awards, Discussion Meet winners compete on national stage