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The FFA 'Stars Over America' tri-state finalists

By Julia Baratta, Freelance Writer
While the FFA program offers many awards and opportunities, the highest honors are give within the Stars Over America program with four different categories recognized. The young people can apply under the Agribusiness,  Agriscience, Agricultural Placement, and Farmer sections. Each state names a winner for each division who are invited to try for the national awards. After the applications are reviewed, the top four finalists in the nation for each category are announced and will be interviewed before the National FFA Convention held in Indianapolis, IN with the winners named during the evening session on October 26.

In the tri-state area, there are three finalists from Indiana, two reside in Ohio, and an individual hailing from Michigan.

Within the Agribusiness area, Nathan DeYoung of Middleton, IN and Shaun Wenrick from Anna, OH will be competing for the highly esteemed national crown.

DeYoung began his career in FFA as a Discovery Degree member when he was an eighth-grader in 2010. He started his Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) in Agricultural Communications – Entrepreneurship at the same time by working with a podcasting club and the Shenandoah FFA chapter’s social media accounts. Since then, DeYoung has developed a business in his community called Innovative Communications and Marketing, which offers digital video and production directing, photography, live streaming, print media storytelling, and other marketing services. His clientele has grown through the years and includes some from the agricultural industry along with other businesses. DeYoung feels his early years of working with the FFA chapter needs has helped him make his future career choice and plans to continue to grow his business.

In Sidney, OH, Wenrick, along with his brother, began LNS Mowing and Landscaping because they both wanted good jobs that they enjoyed. He specializes in residential and commercial mowing, edging, mulching, trimming and pruning, leaf removal, and landscape/hardscape designs and installation. Wenrick has a passion for beautifying the exteriors of homes and his father supported the boys by providing a building and some tools to get them started as long as they took care of the yard work at their parent’s house. They have since been able to reinvest their earnings to purchase their own equipment or rent from an outside source. The road to their success began with advertising by walking around neighborhoods and handing out flyers as well as hanging copies in local businesses. The lawn care service grew, along with the boys, as they promoted it. The business plan is to expand with the purchase of a building and the opening of a garden center in the next few years.

The Agriscience category was well represented in the tri-state area with Chrysta Beck of Pettisville, OH, Leah Hefty from Waterloo, IN, and Loren King of Burr Oak, MI.

Beck chose to research production factors that are important to the commercial poultry industry. While she was in high school, she focused on improving her flock within her own facilities. Temperature ranges and broiler strains were a couple of the factors she worked with to help bird body weight gain and feed conversion ratios. When Beck began her senior year research project, she decided to learn more about broiler gut health. She tried pure garlic in the bird’s water which corresponds with the research being conducted at Mississippi State University. Beck is working at the lab there and continues to study current technologies that will be helpful in reaching the goal of antibiotic-free production practices. She is also determining whether different temperatures and humidity levels affect eggs and their hatchability.

Hefty, on the other hand, has been working on solving community problems in the areas of animal and human health. While in her freshman and sophomore years in the DeKalb FFA program, she researched using algae as a sustainable feed source, providing an alternative nutrition for her goats. By feeding them one-quarter algae to three-quarters hay, she could save money and still give them the nutrients they needed. Hefty’s junior year found her exploring viable ways to produce food in unusual ways rather than the traditional garden methods. She tried bags of top soil and determined that many vegetables could be grown with minimum effort and expense, providing healthy meals for families. Hefty’s senior year project was continuation of her previous year’s work with an emphasis on producing a quality breakfast to help students focus longer.

From the Branch Area Career Center in Coldwater, MI, King discovered his passion for Emerging Agricultural Technology and the use of drones in the world of farming. He researched and conducted tests on the validity of soil testing using a drone he built himself. King examined many area types including rocky, organic, and wind exposed fields. He directed the data to be sent to his phone, where he cataloged it for future use. King then compared the drone-collected data to the hand retrieved soil sample results. This was a two year project with assistance from family and friends. He believes it could be very helpful for farmers to have literally real time data on their fields to make informed decisions. King plans to continue his research on the viability of drones in the agricultural industry as well as promote understanding of the technology and the possibilities it contains.

The Agricultural Placement category had Devin Debruhl of the Shenandoah FFA chapter from Middleton, IN as a finalist. No information was available at press time. There were no representatives from the tri-state area in the Star Farmer division.