Each year at the National FFA Convention & Expo, four FFA members are honored with American Star Awards for outstanding accomplishments in FFA and agricultural education.
The American Star Awards, including American Star Farmer, American Star in Agribusiness, American Star in Agricultural Placement, and American Star in Agriscience, are presented to FFA members who demonstrate outstanding agricultural skills and competencies through completion of an SAE. A required activity in FFA, an SAE allows students to learn by doing, by either owning or operating an agricultural business, working or serving an internship at an agriculture-based business, or conducting an agriculture-based scientific experiment and reporting results.
Related: Stay up-to-date with all the news from the 93rd National FFA Convention & Expo here.
American Star Farmer
At first glance, Cole Ketterling seems like a typical American farmer. He raises beef cows for his supervised agricultural experience (SAE) with Wishek FFA in North Dakota. He grows corn, soybeans, spring wheat, and sunflowers on a rotation. But his time with FFA has taught him a unique, valuable skill: welding. Ketterling said he mostly puts his welding skills to repair broken equipment, but he also uses it for building fencing and other useful structures.
Ketterling’s beef cattle SAE got its start when he was just a kid backgrounding his father’s cows to make them ready for placement in a packed feedlot. From there, he bought his own cows and began renting land for raising cattle and crops. Ketterling said he started with 39 acres and currently farms on “about 1,000 acres” in 2020.
Ketterling recently graduated from North Dakota State University with a degree in ag economics, and he has started working as an ag loan officer in his hometown. He is still farming, though, and he said he has two paths to choose from for his future.
American Star in Agribusiness
Blake Kirchhoff owns and operates a haying business called Blake Kirchhoff Custom Baling for his supervised agricultural experience (SAE) with Superior FFA in Nebraska. Blake’s business does more than spinning hay into bales, though — he helps local farmers get in contact with buyers for their hay bales too.
After he graduates from Kansas State University with an agronomy degree, Kirchhoff said he wants to run his haying business full time. He added that 2020 has been a surprisingly good year for his business despite the COVID-19 pandemic because more people are starting gardens under quarantine.
American Star in Agricultural Placement
Working with animals is second nature for Will Shelby of Madill FFA in Oklahoma. Raised by a veterinarian, Shelby experienced his future career early on, starting his placement supervised agricultural experience (SAE) as a veterinary assistant in his father’s large-animal practice.
“Growing up around it, I kind of had an idea as to what I wanted to do,” Shelby said. “The older I got, the more I realized that maybe there’s a lot of different routes you could go in veterinary medicine that I wasn’t even aware of when I was younger.” Then, Shelby went on to work as a veterinary assistant at a practice in Cushing, Oklahoma last year.
While his father’s career helped Shelby figure out his future, he said FFA helped him develop character, leadership skills and a strong work ethic. In his final year at Oklahoma State University, Shelby is preparing to attend veterinary school to practice large animal veterinary medicine in rural Oklahoma.
American Star in Agriscience
Agriscience is a family affair for Nicole Stevens. Scott Stevens, her father and FFA advisor at Yukon FFA in Oklahoma, encouraged his children to participate in the National FFA Agriscience Fair. Through her years in FFA, scientific research became a bonding point for the father-daughter pair. Starting in eighth grade and going into college, Stevens has been involved in various types of agriscience research, from plant science to animal science.
In her most recent research experience, Stevens studied ruminant digestion. Using cannulas to insert and remove feed samples in cattle stomachs, the project measured digestion processes to formulate more cost-effective feeding practices. This is particularly important, Stevens said, because of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the cattle industry. Stevens hopes to take her research experience to the classroom. After earning her master’s degree at Oklahoma State University, Stevens will teach agricultural education for a few years and then return to school for her doctorate
Sixteen American Star Award finalists from throughout the U.S. were nominated by a panel of judges, who then interviewed the finalists this fall. Four were named winners during the 93rd National FFA Convention & Expo, which was held virtually. Winners received cash awards. Case IH, Elanco Animal Health, and Syngenta sponsor the awards.