Through the FFA, students can learn skills, earn awards and degrees, and development leadership qualities.
Members strive for achievements in their respective areas, but no award compares to being recognized as a Star Over America.
This year, Nebraska FFA had two finalists for the honor in two separate areas.
Mark Keck, from the Plainview FFA Chapter was recognized as a Star finalist in agriscience, and Eric Miller, from the Lyons-Decatur Northeast FFA Chapter, was recognized as a Star finalist in agribusiness.
“It meant a lot to be a finalist. When my ag teacher told me, I told him it was a good thing I was sitting down because I would have fallen over. When I was a sophomore at the national convention, I told my ag teacher I would be up there as a finalist one day, and I accomplished that goal,” said Keck.
He continued, “I didn’t know how much work it would take. I had to keep good records for five years, and then I had to fill out an application that is about 30 pages. In that application I had to describe my SAE, the money involved and write a personal story. For the agriscience application I also had to send in a summary page and what my research found, and that was another 10 pages.”
The Stars Over America Award recognizes the outstanding achievements of FFA members in their supervised agricultural experience (SAE) programs. Sixteen individuals are recognized as finalists in four areas: Agribusiness, Farmer, AgriScience, and Placement. This is one of the most prestigious awards in the organization.
Keck’s SAE involved a four-year research project involving nitrogen stabilizers, and testing their true effective on stabilizing nitrogen in the soil. He was testing a product called NutriSphere-N the first three years, and a new product at the time called AGROTAIN the last year.
In his research, Keck tested three different scenarios. The first was using 70 pounds on nitrogen on a plot, which was standard for his farm and his control. On the next plot he used the same amount of nitrogen plus the stabilizer. On the last plot, his used 50 pounds of nitrogen and the stabilizer. He repeated this pattern twice on two different soils, for a total of 12 plots per year.
His experiment found that the stabilizer did indeed work, and that on average, the stabilizer with the regular amount of nitrogen would increase a farmer’s yield and netted that farmer $55 extra dollars per acre after expenses. At the time corn was $7 per bushel. The new stabilizer netted farmers slightly higher yields as well.
“Overall I found that as long as corn stays above $1.15 per bushel, using a stabilizer will help you make more money,” he said.
This research has led Keck to pursue the career that he has chosen. He is currently a freshman at the University of South Dakota, but will be transferring to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in January to pursue a degree in agronomy.
“I would love to eventually work as an Extension educator or work for a chemical company doing research,” he said.
His dad is a crop consultant, and the family also farms about 500 acres of soybeans and corn. It’s truly a family operation, and everyone helps on the farm and helped with Keck’s research project.
“I loved that this was a family oriented project. My brother helped spread fertilizer, my dad helped with the agronomy aspect and my grandpa harvested. We could all talk about it at the dinner table,” Keck explained.
FFA has been a family activity as well. Both of Keck’s brothers have earned their American Degree, and Keck earned his at National Convention this year. His mother and father were also awarded the honorary American degree at this year’s ceremony.
“It is very cool for all of us to have earned it. It really means a lot to me,” he said.
Keck believes that FFA has helped him in many areas of his life. “FFA provides a lot of great leadership opportunities. I have been able to meet people and learn to be a good leader. I loved FFA because I had the chance to learn about ag and be a better leader at the same time,” he stated.
Nebraska also had three FFA members who were recognized for their SAEs in the proficiency award program. The members were Alyssa Hambleton, Fullerton FFA, Goat Production-Entrepreneurship/Placement; Jared Knobbe, Imperial FFA, Agricultural Services-Entrepreneurship/Placement; and Patrick Arkfeld, Syracuse FFA, Agriscience Research-Animal Systems.
These awards encourage members to develop specialized skills that will apply toward a future career.
A student can select from two proficiency award categories. One is called “placement” for work or experience only SAE programs.
The other, called “entrepreneurship” is for programs that typically involve ownership of an agricultural production or agribusiness enterprise.
The National Chapter Award program recognizes FFA chapters that successfully complete an annual Program of Activities, which includes a series of activities designed to encourage its members to grow as individuals, to work as part of a team, and to serve others.
This year, Conestoga, North Bend and Plainview were finalists in the Model of Innovation, Community category.
Nebraska also sent 24 teams to compete in the Career Development Events (CDEs). The highest placing team came out of Twin River FFA, where the team placed seventh overall in the agronomy contest. The team consisted of Gus Cromwell, Paul Jaixen, Bryan Kummer and Preston Nelson.
The National FFA Agronomy CDE is a competitive event that allows students to apply classroom knowledge to real-life situations. Participants’ knowledge of agronomic sciences was tested through several levels of competition including developing solutions for problematic scenarios; identification of seeds, insects, soil and crops; and other management practices.
Fourteen members also competed in the National FFA Agriscience Fair, which is a competition for FFA members who are interested in the science and technology of agriculture. To qualify for the National FFA Agriscience Fair students must be in grades 7 to 12, conduct a scientific research project pertaining to the agriculture and food science industries and present their findings to a panel of judges with a display and report. All national participants are selected as the state winner at their state agriscience fairs and earn national competition eligibility after being placed in the top-15 within their respective categories.
Each year, at the National FFA Convention, those who have made outstanding contributions to FFA are honored with the Honorary American FFA Degree.
Nebraska’s Honorary American FFA recipient was Donelle Wolters, former executive director of the Nebraska FFA Association.
Many older members of FFA attend the National FFA Convention to receive their last degree. The American FFA Degree is awarded to FFA members who have demonstrated the highest level of commitment to FFA and made significant accomplishments in their Supervised Agricultural Experiences (SAEs).
Approximately 3,500 American FFA Degrees are handed out each year at the National FFA Convention. That number represents less than half of one percent of all FFA members, making it one of the organization’s highest honors. In addition to their degree, each recipient receives a gold American FFA Degree key.
This year, 155 Nebraska FFA members received the American Degree. ❖