Austin Nordyke is the 2017 American Star in Agribusiness

Since the invention of the push mower, cutting the grass represents a rite of passage for many kids. The only difference for Austin Nordyke was that his mower’s puttering speed propelled him to find a faster way to get the job done. And in 2012, this determination drove him to launch his own lawn maintenance operation—Austin Nordyke’s Lawn Care Service. It currently serves a healthy customer base in southwestern Kansas.


Nordyke began his business when he was in eighth grade, as part of his supervised agricultural experience (SAE). He soon realized that with all of the yards he was mowing, one simple mower would not allow him to keep up with the volume. So he purchased a zero-turn lawn mower. This allowed him to be more efficient and take on more yards. In addition, he invested in more backup mowers and soon was taking care of 65 lawns.

Though the money-making aspect first motivated him, all the opportunities that came with the business impressed him even more. “Over the last five years, I’ve been able to start my own business and successfully manage it,” Nordyke says. “I’ve been doing everything from bill-paying and basic accounting to taking care of my taxes.”

For Nordyke, his achievement is about more than just his business. It is also about his leadership skills and critical-thinking skills he credits FFA for developing. “I was always interested in the leadership activities that FFA offered, and it has benefited me not only through high school, but through my first year of college,” Nordyke says. “The skills I’ve learned through FFA and through my business will stay with me throughout the rest of my life.”

The Hugoton, Kan., resident is currently studying engineering technology management at Wichita State University. “With my business background in lawn care, I found this pathway. While it’s a lot of engineering, it also involves business.”

Nordyke points out that his experience with FFA and with his business also helped him with a project in one of his college classes, where he had to develop an innovative product design. “All through that opportunity I was able to use my organizational skills, and eventually transition to team lead for the project.” Today his business has earned Nordyke top honors as he has been named 2017 finalist for the American Star in Agribusiness.

As for Nordyke’s words of advice to FFA members hoping to start an SAE project: “Do it! If you have the aspiration, go for it.”

Nordyke is the son of Shannon and Paul. He is a member of the Hugoton FFA Chapter, led by advisor Les McNally.

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.

Sixteen American Star Award finalists from throughout the U.S. are nominated by a panel of judges who then interview the finalists during the national convention and expo. Four are named winners and receive cash awards totaling $4,000. All American Star finalists receive a $2,000 cash award. Case IH, Elanco Animal Health and Syngenta sponsor the awards.