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A thank-you letter to the industry

Gen Z Aggie: Support for the livestock judging team at UNL is not unlike support from the industry to all kinds of collegiate ag judging teams across the U.S.

Elizabeth Hodges, Staff Writer

May 8, 2024

3 Min Read
2023 UNL livestock judging team
ONE LAST TIME: This team has become a second family to me with all the time that we have spent together. Seeing these proficient communicators who have a passion for the industry is a product of the support from producers and business leaders. The 2023 UNL livestock judging team includes coach Blaine French (from left, back row), Brantly Hoover, Heath Keiser, Caleb Durheim, Brett Forgy, Hunter Johnson, Donald Holupka, assistant coach Maddie Schroeder, Paige Trumble (from left, front row), Ainsley Fischer, Elizabeth Hodges and Sarah Dilley. UNL

As I am nearing the last semester of my collegiate career, I have had some time to reflect on my time at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the animal science department.

I always knew that the agriculture industry was a tight-knit community that supported each other through the good and the bad. However, at the 2024 UNL Animal Science Banquet held a few weeks ago, support from alumni and industry leaders was overwhelmingly evident.

But it is not just their physical support that shows their dedication to the next generation of the agriculture industry. The conversations and stories of how they ended up where they are today are inspiring and something that ag students, no matter where you attend college, can look up to.

Closing a chapter

If you have been following along with my blogs this year, you know that I was on the livestock judging team at UNL. While I learned a lot about the livestock industry, the memories and friendships that I gained from this year are something that I will carry forever.

I am sure that many of you who were on a judging team have these similar memories with your teammates, traveling up and down the road to contests and practices. Looking forward to the future, I am excited to see where my teammates end up in the industry and the innovations they will inspire.

It was not just my teammates that helped me develop into a better communicator and evaluator. The dedication from my assistant coaches — Tigh Renken, Chase DeVries and Maddie Schroeder — all affected my team by bringing a new perspective and lively voice.

But the coach that affected my time on the team the most was my head coach, Blaine French. The Intercollegiate Livestock Judging Program saw Blaine’s hard work and dedication to the team, so he was named 2023 Coach of the Year. This prestigious award goes to a coach that has found success this year and has been able to coach in-house students, like me, and transfer students from various junior colleges.

Elizabeth Hodges - Christy Hodges, Michael Hodges, Elizabeth Hodges, Abigail Hodges and Andrew Hodges.

I came into livestock judging with very little experience from 4-H and FFA contests. Entering the collegiate scene was much more intense and competitive than I originally thought. But with support from my teammates and coaches, I have become a well-rounded student who has a lot more to offer the industry.

Industry support

But none of these contests or practices would be possible without the overwhelming support from local producers and industry leaders. Without the financial support of these teams, we would not be able to travel as much as we do to see high-quality livestock across the country. In addition, the wise words and networking opportunities gained are second to none.

So, I just want to take this time to say thank you on behalf of my team and other livestock judging programs across the country for those of you who have supported the animal science department.

I am incredibly thankful for this opportunity to compete and be involved in the animal science industry. The new UNL Livestock Judging belt buckle that I was gifted at the end of the year will be worn proudly while I cover different stories across the Midwest for Farm Progress.

In return, I hope to give back to the industry that has shaped me by bringing relevant and helpful stories to producers, so they will have more tools to make their respective operations stay viable.

Thank you again for everyone that gives back to the next generation. Your support and dedication to the industry does not go unnoticed.

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About the Author(s)

Elizabeth Hodges

Staff Writer, Farm Progress

Growing up on a third-generation purebred Berkshire hog operation, Elizabeth Hodges of Julian, Neb., credits her farm background as showing her what it takes to be involved in the ag industry. She began her journalism career while in high school, reporting on producer progress for the Midwest Messenger newspaper.

While a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she became a Husker Harvest Days intern at Nebraska Farmer in 2022. The next year, she was hired full time as a staff writer for Farm Progress. She plans to graduate in 2024 with a double major in ag and environmental sciences communications, as well as animal science.

Being on the 2022 Meat Judging team at UNL led her to be on the 2023 Livestock Judging team, where she saw all aspects of the livestock industry. She is also in Block and Bridle and has held different leadership positions within the club.

Hodges’ father, Michael, raises hogs, and her mother, Christy, is an ag education teacher and FFA advisor at Johnson County Central. Hodges is the oldest sibling of four.

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