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FFA to award four American Stars at national convention

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Four FFA students in this region, out of 16 selected across the country, are finalists for the organization’s 2018 top achievement awards to be presented Oct. 25, at the 91st National FFA Convention & Expo in Indianapolis.

The American Star award recognizes FFA members who have developed outstanding agricultural skills and competencies through the completion of a supervised agricultural experience (SAE) program. Other requirements include demonstrating top management skills; completing key ag education, scholastic and leadership requirements; and earning an American FFA Degree.

There are four American Star candidates chosen in each of its four categories: Farmer, Agribusiness, Agricultural Placement and Agriscience. At the convention, four will be named winners and receive cash awards, totaling $4,000, with All American Star finalists receiving a $2,000 cash award.

Benjamin Curtin, who’s a finalist for the American Star in Agribusiness award, started his SAE and business, Curtin’s Creations, during his sophomore year of high school in Taylorville, Ill.

“My ag teacher approached me, and he said, ‘Why don’t you do a metal fabrication shop which specializes in building products for around the farm?’” Curtin said. “I also liked building industrial furniture, so he approached me and also said, ‘Well, why don’t you offer that as well?’”

After starting his education at Purdue University, he was able to expand his metalworking expertise by using two computer numerical control (CNC) machines: a plasma cutter and a wood router. Through Curtin’s Creations, he has made ag and home products such as farm/ranch signs, universal mounting plates for skid steer equipment and tractor grapples.

Curtin credits his FFA and ag education experience for some of the skills he uses in his business, which has helped him to understand the marketing side of his operation, plus ag mechanics classes to improve his proficiency with technology.

“This SAE has given me a platform,” he said. “Just going into it, I had a rudimentary basic understanding of metalworking, but through this SAE, it has helped me gain the technical understanding of metalworking and the CNC machines; getting that understanding.”

He said his ultimate goal is to “go out, strike out on my own as an entrepreneur and develop an innovative and groundbreaking ag product that revolutionizes the industry.”

His parents are Steve and Susan Curtin. His FFA advisors are Sue Schafer, Katie King and Elise Hackett.

There aren’t many teenagers who have an ethanol-producing facility in their basement, but for Eric Koehlmoos, it was all part of his SAE, which was born from a science fair project for biology class. Curious if ethanol could be made from switchgrass and prairie cordgrass, he began his research using knowledge he gained in his high school animal science class.

“A cellulosic ethanol plant and a cow’s rumen are two very, very similar things,” said Koehlmoos, a Pallina, Iowa, native and a finalist for the American Star in Agriscience.

He said creating ethanol from prairie grasses is important because it can “better the toolbox” for potential energy sources that will eventually replace oil. “It can help use less of the high-quality ground that we can grow corn on and other types of crops, and then on poor-quality ground, we can grow switchgrass and prairie cordgrass, and produce ethanol.”

With his at-home Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms-approved ethanol facility, Koehlmoos had to get creative to match the processes used in a commercial plant.

In high school, his research competed nationally and internationally against the work of college researchers with more funding and better facilities. But he gained valuable research experience in the process.

Now, as an ag education student at Kansas State University, Koehlmoos has participated in research with the Kansas FFA Agriscience Fair, evaluating how the fair can grow and how to deal with barriers that Kansas ag teachers may deal with regarding the fair.

His goal is to be a high school agriculture teacher and FFA advisor, using the skills he strengthened through his FFA and research experiences to help “spark some ideas in the next generation of agriculturists.” He is the son of Douglas and Lisa Koehlmoos. His South O’Brien FFA Chapter advisor is Eric Kumm.

Ag Placement rivals

Growing up on her family’s farm in West Liberty, Iowa, Gracie Danner – an Agricultural Placement Star finalist – saw an opportunity for an SAE when her family started growing their beef herd. At Danner Farms, she oversees the herd’s management, helping make breeding decisions for the 30-head cattle operation.

“I’ve also been working on developing our rations and transitioning that role from being a consultant to being more of the one that decides what goes into every ration and overall herd management,” she said. “I moved into the marketing and sales side of our herd, as well.”

As her placement role in SAE has grown alongside her family’s beef operation, Danner said FFA opened her to “getting more interested and seeing the global-ness of the agricultural industry. The different ways my career could go is what FFA showed me, leading me to pursue a degree in agricultural economics at Kansas State, and having that larger perspective of ag.”

She said both the science and career development aspects of FFA piqued her interest, and those experiences have helped her in sales and marketing, and working directly with her family’s herd.

“My ultimate career aspirations would be to be involved in the policy and trade end of agriculture. I’ve learned the production side of agriculture through my SAE and gotten exposed to how trade and policy affects producers.”

Her parents are Billie Danner and Stefanie Arnaman. Her FFA advisor is Zachary Morris.

Jarret Moser, also a finalist for the American Star in Agricultural Placement, said building his business and communications skills have impacted his career during his time in the Jefferson County FFA chapter in Jefferson City, Tenn.

“As I have gotten older, I realize now that if it weren’t for FFA, I probably would not be in the position – as far as the business aspect – as I am now,” he said, “just because I wouldn’t have had that exposure on how to communicate with people.”

His SAE consists of working on his family’s farm, Tennessee Valley Resources, where he assists with planting and harvesting its principal crops, corn and soybeans. In addition, he works in sales for its mining operation, which mines gypsum that’s sold to farmers.

“Sulfur is a huge factor in plant growth – especially for those of us with soybean, and cotton and even peanuts,” Moser explained. “Sulfur is a key nutrient and we lack that now because we don’t get any sulfur rain. So this gypsum is a sulfur sub.”

He credits his FFA experience for the communications skills he gained that now help him in relaying information to potential clients in a way that’s accessible to them. “I’m going around trying to educate farmers on the importance of sulfur,” he said.

Moser wants to continue farming in the future and share his knowledge with other crop producers. “We’ve been successful for years,” he said of his family farm. “Our corn yields are out of this world for our area. I would like to educate people and show them what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”

He is the son of Jake and Roxanne Moser. His FFA advisors are Jackson Moser, Adam Martin and Mike Maples.

Other candidates this year are: for American Star Farmer, Adam Eichacker of South Dakota, Dylan Finken of North Dakota, Austin Stanton of Missouri and Laura Stobb of Minnesota; for American Star in Agribusiness, Aaron Deunk of Nebraska, Conner Watts of Texas and Brady Womack of Oklahoma; for American Star in Agricultural Placement, Landon Herring of Georgia and Colin Wegner of Minnesota; and for American Star in Agriscience, Adrienne Blakey of Oklahoma, Katherine Marie Fazzino of Texas and Katheryn Vacula of Wisconsin.