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Show-Me Life: Outstanding Farmers of America is one organization young farmers should seek out.

Mindy Ward, Editor, Missouri Ruralist

March 8, 2024

4 Min Read
An apple with with the Outstanding Farmers of America logo
APPLE OF AG’S EYE: The Outstanding Farmers of America rises to the top in terms of agriculture organizations offering young farmers the chance to not only gain recognition, but also learn from this fraternity’s alumni and give back to the ag industry. Mindy Ward

There are no secret handshakes, hidden doors or backrooms, but not just anybody can enter the ranks of the Outstanding Farmers of America fraternity.

However, for three days every year, I’m able to peek behind the coveted veil and walk among stalwarts in the agriculture community.

“What year are you?” a Minnesota farmer asks from across the table. It is a common question as it identifies you belong here. You see, every farmer or farm couple at the table was a past nominee to the Outstanding Young Farmers Program, and the year represents when they were inducted into the organization.  

Don Hartman, a New Mexico farmer, 2006 OFA inductee and current OFA president, says the fraternity is dedicated to being a positive influence in agriculture by developing strong relationships, peer networking and educational opportunities.

“OFA is an exceptionally diverse group of individuals representing all facets of agriculture,” he notes. “Their leadership roles extend from the local level to the secretary of agriculture for the USDA.”

To join the ranks, farms must be nominated and selected as a finalist for the National Outstanding Young Farmers Awards, which is the oldest farmer-award program in the country, dating back to 1951.

Supporting next-gen farmers

OFA was started in Iowa by the U.S. Junior Chamber, or Jaycees, to bring awareness to the nation’s farmers and ranchers, especially in urban areas.

“It is about showing the importance and impact farmers have on the American economy,” Hartman explains.

Three years later, the group expanded from one state into a national program. Today, it is sponsored not only by the Jaycees, but also the National Association of County Agricultural Agents and the National Association of Conservation Districts. And for nearly a half-century, John Deere has been the primary sponsor of the National Outstanding Farmers Awards Congress.

To gain membership farmers must be nominated. The requirements include:

  • Nominees must be between the ages of 21 and 40, not becoming 41 prior to Jan. 1 before the National OYF Awards Congress.

  • Nominees must be actual farm operators, deriving a minimum of two-thirds of their income from farming.

Applications are evaluated based on the farm couple’s progress in their agricultural career, soil and water conservation practices, and contributions to the well-being of their community, state and nation.

Each year OFA selects 10 finalists — all are inducted into the fraternity. However, those 10 are whittled down to the elite four young farmers in the nation.

More than accolades for members

Don’t get me wrong, the selection and award are impressive, but what sets this group apart is its mentorship — specifically generational mentorship.

There are about 1,500 members of the fraternity across the country who use their membership to form a strong network that truly assists fellow farmers and ranchers and promotes the importance of America’s farming community.

As one of this year’s NOYF finalists put it, “Because we are not from the same state or neighbors, there is no competition. I can talk to them about anything, ask them questions. It seems we all have the same types of issues, but they may have a solution I didn’t think of. The best part, they share it.”

For Hartman, what sets the OFA apart is its family bond.

“There is a closeness here,” he says. “From the minute you get here, you're immersed and intermingled. And that's on purpose. Because we want you to move around different tables; we put you with different people every night so you can bond with other farmers. That’s what’s happened for us in the many years that we've been here.

“There's probably not a state that I can't drive to, that I can call somebody up and say, ‘You want to go to dinner?’ or, ‘Hey, I'm broke down. Can you loan me a hand?’ That's what I love about OFA is we're tight, and we stay tight through the years. We've grown friendships, and they're lifelong friendships and they become family.”

For me, an outsider, it is the organization’s commitment to fostering relationships among the younger and older generation that keeps all generations coming back year after year. Why?

To support each other. To embrace their passion for agriculture. To encourage the next generation. To honor the stalwarts.

If there is one secret society in agriculture that next-gen farmers should seek out, it is the Outstanding Farmers of America.

Visit with your county agricultural or Extension agent, or your local conservation district, to learn more, or visit outstandingfarmers.com.

Also look over the NOYF Awards list and see if there is a farmer from your state, then take them out for coffee or lunch and let them pull back the veil on OFA. It will be well worth your time.

Read more about:

Next Generation

About the Author(s)

Mindy Ward

Editor, Missouri Ruralist

Mindy resides on a small farm just outside of Holstein, Mo, about 80 miles southwest of St. Louis.

After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism, she worked briefly at a public relations firm in Kansas City. Her husband’s career led the couple north to Minnesota.

There, she reported on large-scale production of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and dairy, as well as, biofuels for The Land. After 10 years, the couple returned to Missouri and she began covering agriculture in the Show-Me State.

“In all my 15 years of writing about agriculture, I have found some of the most progressive thinkers are farmers,” she says. “They are constantly searching for ways to do more with less, improve their land and leave their legacy to the next generation.”

Mindy and her husband, Stacy, together with their daughters, Elisa and Cassidy, operate Showtime Farms in southern Warren County. The family spends a great deal of time caring for and showing Dorset, Oxford and crossbred sheep.

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