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.
Here are the 2017 finalists for American Star Farmer:
Joseph Arnold (Minnesota)
Growing up on the family farm, Joseph Arnold of Holloway, Minn., knew early on that he wanted to pursue a career in agriculture.
When Arnold joined FFA and began learning even more about the industry through classes, he realized working on the farm would be perfect for his supervised agricultural experience (SAE). In the process, Arnold discovered he needed to diversify his crops to sustain his operation.
As part of his process, he invested in shares of stock in the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative. He then researched the possibility of growing additional varieties of beans and other produce. As a result, today his operation yields corn, soybeans, navy beans, kidney beans and sugar beets.
For the past four years, Arnold has farmed and controlled every aspect of the production and marketing of his crops. He also strives to learn new ways to improve his operation. This persistence and drive have earned him the honor of being named a 2017 finalist for American Star Farmer.
“In high school I learned a bit about the business side as well as the mechanical side,” Arnold says. “I then strengthened that knowledge with my college education. It helped me be valuable to our farm operation, knowing these skills prior and having the work ethic to learn everything.”
Arnold takes pride in the operation and works to ensure it is the best it can be. He also realizes that his efforts help feed the world.
“If people didn’t need food, we wouldn’t have a job,” Arnold says. “I try to make the best products we can on the least amount of ground, on the least amount of input to try to be more sustainable and keep up with the growing demand for food.”
He also enjoys seeing his work’s connection to the broader agricultural picture. “It’s kind of neat to open up a can of Busch beans and know that this could have come from my farm.”
Arnold appreciates the experiences and knowledge he has gained through FFA. “It really put me a step ahead of those who didn’t have those opportunities.”
Mark Cavallero (California)
For Mark Cavallero, farming has been a way of life for as long as he can remember. In fact, the Madera, Calif., resident’s first vivid recollections are of helping steer a tractor and doing chores on the farm.
His family began working the land more than 100 years ago. At age 10, Cavallero started farming 10 acres of Thompson’s Seedless Grapes. Cavallero’s father taught him how. Cavallero read as much about grapes as he could, learning what fertilizer to use, how often and how much water to use and when to lay down sulfur.
“My school planner soon became a calendar for my grapes,” he explains. “I made sure to try new things, experimenting with new fertilizers and water.”
Then the summer before his freshman year, he decided to try his hand at almonds. As his production began to grow, he incorporated it into his FFA supervised agricultural experience (SAE). Today, he contracts with the California Almond Growers Co-Op, since he doesn’t have a large farm.
“It all started with 10 acres of grapes, and I’ve never looked back,” Cavallero says.
Cavallero’s success with his farm has earned him the honor of being named a 2017 finalist for American Star Farm.
Almonds are nothing like grapes, so Cavallero says he learned a lot, and he depended on his dad for a great deal of advice. He also talked to many other farmers as well. His passion for farming grew as he began cultivating his 10 acres and as he learned more. “I realized this wasn’t a chore,” he says. “It’s a way of life; it’s what I want to do.”
Cavallero credits his FFA advisors for also helping him learn more about his production and for teaching him skills he is able to use in the field.
“Find an advisor who is just as driven as you are,” Cavallero recommends. “FFA advisors cares about their students, and they’re all there to help you. That’s one of the great things about FFA. The advisors are just as driven as the kids. If you have an ‘in’ in the agriculture industry in any way, it can be even bigger. You just have to do it and find the advisor to help push you through.”
Cavallero’s future plans include majoring in plant science and agricultural business.
Jake Fanning (Oklahoma)
Jake Fanning of May, Okla., originally purchased cattle as a part of a competition with his FFA chapter, but that simple transaction turned him onto a lifestyle and passion for work in the cattle industry.
It all began when a local feedlot became involved with the local FFA chapter and created a stocker cattle competition. Those participating in the competition were to buy four head of cattle and feed them either at the feedlot or at home for 100 days. Then certain prizes were awarded based on the highest average daily gain, the highest profits or on the amount of pounds gained in addition to an interview competition.
Once Fanning began taking his agricultural education classes and became more involved in FFA, he realized there were ways where he could grow his business and be successful. He worked with his brother and sister on starting a cattle company as part of his supervised agricultural experience (SAE), where they’d buy the cattle around 300-500 pounds and raise them to 700-800 pounds and then they’d sell them on the national market.
“Learning the proper business techniques, the accounting processes and the financial formulas helped me grow the business,” Fanning said. “Through FFA there have been a lot of opportunities that have been given to me, which has helped me grow my passion for the beef industry in northwest Oklahoma.”
In addition to the cattle company, Fanning and his brother and sister started a not-for-profit organization, “The Beef Project.” They seek out monetary or financial donations of beef, process it and then have it delivered to five food pantries in northwest Oklahoma and have about 15 different families they donate to once a month.
“Seeing the look on people’s faces and realizing how much of any impact that the beef industry and our organization has on them has been very rewarding,” Fanning said. “There’s no amount of profit that I could make in this industry that could surpass what has been done with this organization in the amount of two years so far.”
Fanning’s passion for the beef industry as well as his heart for giving back and strengthening his community has earned him the honor of being named a 2017 finalist for the American Star Farmer.
Nick Vollmer (Colorado)
When Nick Vollmer joined FFA as a freshman, the last sentence of the FFA Creed spoke to him in a big way. The words that changed the course of his future are simple, yet profound: “I believe that American agriculture can and will hold true to the best traditions of our national life and that I can exert an influence in my home and community which will stand solid for my part in that inspiring task.”
During that year, it inspired him to become involved in production agriculture as part of his supervised agricultural experience (SAE) and start a cow/calf operation.Vollmer had always had a passion for working with cattle. His compassion for his animals shows in the way he treats them. “I try to imagine what it would be like to be them,” he says. “I think about the conditions they live in, what I feed them, and how I work the cattle. If I don’t like it, I find a better way. I always keep them and their attitudes at the forefront.”
The Merino, Colo., resident credits his FFA advisor for also helping him with the success of his cattle operation. “Seeing the work ethic from my advisor inspires me,” he says. “He’s always pushed me and always expected the best of me. Just seeing what he does for each student, putting in 100 percent, makes me realize that I can put 110 percent into everything I do.”
“Preparation is the biggest key, I learned through my SAE,” Vollmer says, “And future planning—knowing your goals—is important.”
That planning and preparation has earned Vollmer the honor of being named a 2017 finalist for American Star Farm.
Growing up on a family farm inspired Vollmer, but what drives him now is knowing of all the opportunity that awaits him in agriculture. “I think agriculturists are more important now than they’ve ever been,” Vollmer says. “Being able to stay on the family farm, maybe I can make a difference. It keeps you on your feet and it is enjoyable. And the thing about agriculture is that you build a community.”
Vollmer’s future plans include finishing his degree at Northeaster Junior College and obtaining a degree in agricultural business and animal science.
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.
Judging will occur in Indianapolis during the 90th National FFA Convention & Expo, Oct. 25-28, with the winners being announced during an onstage ceremony on Thursday, Oct. 28.