Kentucky entrepreneur named 2012 Star in Agribusiness finalist by National FFA Organization

INDIANAPOLIS (September, 2012/National FFA Organization) - Zachary Cotton’s grandfather always told him that if he wanted to succeed in owning his own business some day, he’d best keep his expenses low.

That’s the way the Taylorsville, Ky., entrepreneur started out when he created his own business in 2005 as a freshman in high school. And following that grandfatherly advice today has been key to Cotton’s ability to sustain and grow Cotton’s Custom Baling.

For the successes he’s achieved in building his core competencies as an agribusiness owner, Cotton has been named a 2012 Star in Agribusiness finalist, one of the highest honors given by the National FFA Organization. He will compete with three other finalists at the 85th National FFA Convention & Expo, Oct. 24 - 27, in Indianapolis.

Each year at the national convention and expo, 16 national finalists – four in each category – vie for the organization’s top awards: American Star Farmer, American Star in Agribusiness, American Star in Agricultural Placement and American Star in Agriscience. These awards honor students who have developed outstanding agricultural skills and competencies through their supervised agricultural experience; demonstrated outstanding management skills; earned the American FFA Degree – the organization’s highest level of accomplishment; and met other agricultural education, scholastic and leadership requirements. Each finalist will be interviewed by a panel of judges, who will ultimately name the top candidate in each area. The winner will be announced in an onstage ceremony and will receive a plaque and an award of $4,000. The runners-up will also receive a plaque and $2,000 each.

Cotton graduated from Spencer County High School in Taylorsville, Ky., in 2009 after completing four years and 720 hours of agricultural education, being an FFA member for four years and earning a State FFA Degree. As a freshman, he began Cotton's Custom Bailing as a supervised agricultural experience required by FFA.

At first, Cotton’s business provided cutting and baling services for local farmers and spanned 80 acres. His business quickly expanded to include hay harvesting and bush hog services. Through advertising his business and managing his own equipment, his work grew to manage 375 acres of work in 2009.

Today, Cotton’s Custom Bailing is approaching 1,000 acres of work. Cotton owns and maintains all of his equipment and oversees all advertising and management needs of the business.

"My father got me started in 2005 by letting me bale some land that he owned using an old tractor I bought and repaired that summer," he said. "I baled that first acreage and was able to receive payment for it once the hay was sold. Today, I have just started really taking stride in my operation and have more than 900 acres that I harvest in the year. The key to my service is that I will not only bale but I also help them market their product, which has helped both me and my customers tremendously."

Cotton also works for Feeder Supply Co., where he helps distribute feed and works events at the Kentucky State Fairgrounds, and as a general laborer for Reid’s Hauling and Excavation. He has obtained commercial certification to be licensed to apply farmland chemicals and a commercial's driving license.

In his free time, Cotton volunteers to shop for less-fortunate families during the holidays, is a Spencer County 4-H Fair volunteer and volunteers at the county’s Octoberfest event, recycling center and parks department.

A member of Spencer County FFA, Cotton’s chapter advisor was Darryl Matherly. He is the son of Harold Cotton and Michelle Housley.

The American FFA Degree recognition programs, such as the American Star Awards, are co-sponsored by Alltech Inc.; Case IH; Elanco; Farm Credit; Pioneer Hi-Bred, a DuPont Business; and Syngenta as a special project of the National FFA Foundation.