The National FFA Organization selected the recipients of the 2019 top achievement awards: American Star Farmer, American Star in Agribusiness, American Star in Agricultural Placement and American Star in Agriscience.
The American Star Awards represents the best of the best among thousands of American FFA Degree recipients. The award recognizes FFA members who have developed outstanding agricultural skills and competencies through the completion of a supervised agricultural experience program. A required activity in FFA, an SAE allows members to learn by doing.
Other requirements to achieve the award include demonstrating top management skills; completing key agricultural education, scholastic and leadership requirements; and earning an American FFA Degree, the organization’s highest level of student accomplishment.
American Star Farmer: Willis Wolf of Merced, California — 2019 Star Farmer
Most of America’s farms are located in Midwestern states like Iowa and Kansas, but California is host to its fair share of farmers as well – including Willis Wolf, member of the Merced – El Capitan FFA Chapter. For the past few years, Wolf has been working on his supervised agricultural experience, raising both goats and the hay forage to feed them.
He said his family is not known for goats, but he wanted to learn how to handle new kinds of livestock. “The reason why I do it is because the commercial goat industry is … a growing market,” Wolf said. “Each year, it keeps growing and growing. Not enough production of goats is happening. There’s a huge void there, so the demand needs to be met.”
Wolf said his best advice for FFA members wanting to start their own SAE is to always ask for help, just like he did. “Talk to your ag teachers and let them know you want to do something,” he said. “They’re always willing to help. … They have connections that they could help you set up.”
American Star in Agribusiness: Blake Kennedy of Tecumseh, Oklahoma — 2019 Star in Agribusiness
Marketing has always been an important part of any business’s success, but in the digital age, social media marketing is a must. Knowing this, Blake Kennedy, a member of the Tecumseh FFA Chapter in Oklahoma, decided to take over his family’s annual pig sale as part of his supervised agricultural experience.
Kennedy said he saw untapped growth potential if he could just infuse his pig sale with some agribusiness marketing magic. “My SAE is focused on the pig sale and running it and marketing it in different ways,” he said. “Being able to use technology and social media is a huge aspect in today’s time to help marketing better reach people, and so that’s something I wanted to do. I was very fortunate to be able to do it and have it take off and grow substantially.”
Kennedy’s main advice for FFA members who want to pursue their own SAEs is simple: be different.
American Star in Agricultural Placement: Andrew Streff of Salem, South Dakota — 2019 Star in Agricultural Placement
“I was driving a tractor on my own since I was 10 years old, and that really transitioned well into my FFA career once I got into that during high school,” Streff said. He added on to his SAE by completing two internships. His first internship was in 2017 with the Central Farmers Cooperative as a crop scout intern. In that role, Streff surveyed thousands of acres of crops and reported their status to local farmers. Then, he crossed state lines to work as an agriculture technology specialist intern at Winfield United in Ohio, running test plot trials and helping crop producers troubleshoot issues.
Streff said a person can never know too much about agriculture, and continuing to get an education is key. “Every day is a learning experience, and FFA really emphasized that you can take advantage of a learning experience in a work environment,” he said. “You don’t have to sit in a classroom to learn.”
Though he’ll look for opportunities to work in the agricultural business sector after graduating from South Dakota State University in spring 2020, Streff hopes the family ties to farming will live on with the help of new knowledge from his placement experiences.
American Star in Agriscience: Courtney Cameron of Valdosta, Georgia — 2019 Star in Agriscience
Through her research, Courtney Cameron found that aspirin is effective in controlling tobacco mosaic virus in heirloom tomato plants. Using this treatment, farmers could save $2.6 million a year. This positive impact on farmers is what fuels her passion.“It was essentially seeing the impact it could have and the hope it can give to the farmer,” Cameron said. “That’s when I found out, ‘Wow, this is why I do it. This is why I need to do this.’”
She now attends the University of Georgia, where she studies agriscience and is involved in research concerning Neofusicoccum and Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. vasinfectum, both fungal pathogens. Cameron said plant disease is an interesting field of research, but she knows for sure she wants to make a future in agriculture, conducting research and communicating that science with others.“I want the kind of job where I’m able to be very versatile in what I do and be able to serve the farmer and serve as a bridge between the farmer and the consumer,” she said.
Congratulations to these recipients and all of their hard work!