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National Outstanding Young Farmers nominations are being accepted for the 2021 program.

Mindy Ward, Editor, Missouri Ruralist

July 28, 2020

3 Min Read
Farmer Michael Jackson standing in front of a John Deere tractor and leaning on a white bag of seed
LOOKING AHEAD: Sixth-generation young farmer Michael Jackson incorporates cover crops into the family’s corn and soybean operation. Courtesy of Michael Jackson

When young people graduate from college and return to the farm, they often look to make their mark. For Michael Jackson, it came through a commitment to conservation and the next generation.

Jackson is the sixth generation to farm the land around Oskaloosa, Iowa. The family has been no-tilling soybeans since the late 1980s. The farm uses conservation practices such as 20,000 feet of terraces, more than 100 acres of wetlands, settling ponds, buffers strips, grassways and headlands.

“The goal of the farm is to sustain the soil and leave a legacy with cleaner water and a strong economic bottom line with less input costs,” Jackson says. The family also incorporates cover crops to help with erosion control and increase the soil’s organic matter.

And while Jackson is working on the farm to leave it better for his own children, his wife, Mary Beth, is working in the community to promote agriculture. The couple participates in Ag in the Classroom and provides virtual tours of their farm through Skype.

“We’ve reached as far as Florida,” says Mary Beth, who grew up on a dairy and hog operation. “It is about helping the next generation understand how their food is produced.”

Rewarding young farmers

For their efforts on and off the farm, the Jacksons were one of four young farming couples to win the 2020 National Outstanding Young Farmer Award from the Outstanding Farmers of America. The organization is seeking nominations for its 2021 class of young farmers.

The program’s goal is to highlight young farmers and recognize their contributions and achievements in farming and their community. It is administered by the U.S. Junior Chamber and the National Association of Conservation Districts. The purpose of the program is to bring about greater interest in the farmer and foster better urban-rural relationships by understanding the farmer’s role in our food system.

“The OFA is dedicated to being a positive voice in agriculture by recognizing outstanding young farmers in America,” says Greg Bendixson, a North Dakota farmer who serves as OFA president.

Pictured are Greg and Carmen Bendixson, Brandon and Ashley Bonk, Maria and Doug Bichler, Mary Beth and Michael Jackson, and Heather and Will Cabe all holding flowers and award plaques
WINNING WAYS: The Outstanding Farmers of America named four winners of the National Outstanding Young Farmer Award. OFA Presidents Greg and Carmen Bendixson (center) presented the award. The winners include from left to right Brandon and Ashley Bonk of Delaware, Maria and Doug Bichler from North Dakota, MaryBeth and Michael Jackson of Iowa, and Heather and Will Cabe from Georgia. 

The National Outstanding Young Farmers began honoring farmers in 1955, recognizing their drive to improve agriculture and conservation practices. The program is sponsored by John Deere, administered by the Outstanding Farmers of America, and supported by the National Association of County Agricultural Agents and the U.S. Jaycees.

How to apply

Farmers from across the U.S. are eligible and may be nominated by anyone. The deadline for entries is Oct. 5. There are two main qualifications young farmers must meet for consideration:

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

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

There can be more than one nomination per state, but during the judging process, the field will be narrowed to not more than two from any state. Winners are determined based on progress in their agricultural career, focus on soil and water conservation, and contributions to society.

Ten finalists will be chosen and travel to the 2021 NOYF Congress. The top four farm couples will receive the National Outstanding Young Farmers Award. Each receives a savings bond from John Deere and a trip to the 2022 Ag Day celebrations in Washington, D.C.

For more on the award, visit ofafraternity.org.

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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