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