INDIANAPOLIS (Friday, Aug. 28, 2015/National FFA Organization) – Growing up on the family farm, Justin Zahradka of Lawton, N.D., was intrigued by livestock, tractors and crops. He was an inquisitive child, asking questions such as "Why do farmers cultivate soil?" "Why do cows only eat certain vegetation?"
This curiosity led the 21 year old to become involved in his local FFA chapter and today has resulted in him being named a 2015 finalist for the American Star in Agriscience award, one of the most prestigious honors awarded to a student by the National FFA Organization.
As a member of his FFA chapter, Zahradka was involved in many aspects of the chapter, from leadership positions to playing a role in crops judging. His interest in crops judging continued to grow and soon, he agreed to participate in the North Dakota Cover Crop Trial. His responsibilities included providing the land and cattle, helping select the seed mix, planting the crop, weighing the cattle and assisting in tours. His cover crop was one of the first research of its kind in his area.
His research with cover crops has now changed how Zahradka farms. He says rather than working against nature, he is now adopting a system of biotic farming. Biotic farming revolves around all living things rather than just the crop being grown and focuses on a more integrated, biological way to address problems and reduce inputs.
He is currently studying crop and weed sciences at North Dakota State University.
Each year at the National FFA Convention & Expo, four FFA members are honored with an American Star Award for outstanding accomplishments in FFA and agricultural education.
The American Star Awards, including the American Star Farmer, American Star in Agribusiness, American Star in Agricultural Placement and American Star in Agriscience, are awarded to FFA members who demonstrate outstanding agricultural skills and competencies through completion of a supervised agricultural experience program. A required activity in FFA, an SAE allows students to learn by doing by either owning and operating an agricultural business, working or serving an internship at an agriculture-based business or conducting an agriculture-based scientific experiment and reporting results.
Other requirements to achieve the award include demonstrating top management skills; completing key agricultural education, scholastic and leadership requirements; and earning an American FFA Degree, the organization’s highest level of student accomplishment.
Sixteen American Star Award finalists from throughout the U.S. are nominated by a panel of judges to interview 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. The American Star Awards are sponsored by ADM Crop Risk Services, Case IH, Elanco, Farm Credit and Syngenta as a special project of the National FFA Foundation.
Judging will occur in Louisville, Ky., during the 88th National FFA Convention & Expo, Oct. 28-31, with the winner being announced during an onstage ceremony on Thursday, Oct. 29.
Zahradka is the son of Jeff and Lori Zahradka. He is a member of the Park River High School FFA Chapter, which is led by advisor Brent Arndt.
The National FFA Organization provides leadership, personal growth and career success training through agricultural education to 610,240 student members who belong to one of 7,665 local FFA chapters throughout the U.S., Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
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About National FFA Organization The National FFA Organization is a national youth organization of 629,367 student members as part of 7,757 local FFA chapters in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The FFA mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education. The National FFA Organization operates under a federal charter granted by the 81st United States Congress and it is an integral part of public instruction in agriculture. The U.S. Department of Education provides leadership and helps set direction for FFA as a service to state and local agricultural education programs. For more, visit the National FFA Organization online at
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About National FFA Foundation
The National FFA Foundation builds partnerships with industry, education, government, other foundations and individuals to secure financial resources that recognize FFA member achievements, develop student leaders and support the future of agricultural education. Governed by a 19-member board of trustees comprised of educators, business leaders, individual donors and FFA alumni, the foundation is a separately-registered nonprofit organization. About 82 percent of every dollar received by the foundation supports FFA members and agricultural education opportunities. For more, visit