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4 couples named National Outstanding Young Farmers

Mindy Ward group shot of National Outstanding Young Farmer Award winners and presenters
WINNING WAYS: OFA presidents Greg and Carmen Bendixson (center) presented the award. The winners included (left to right) Brandon and Ashley Bonk, Maria and Doug Bichler, MaryBeth and Michael Jackson, and Heather and Will Cabe.
The award focuses on farm, environmental and community efforts by next generation producers.

What do sweet potato, poultry, corn and cattle farmers have in common? All four recently were named National Outstanding Young Farmers during the 64th annual Outstanding Farmers of America Awards Congress.

Outstanding Farmers of America (OFA) recently held its awards program in Connecticut. Farmers 40 years old and younger were nominated from across the country for the honor. The selection processed narrowed the field to 10 couples who traveled to the East Coast for in-person interviews.

From there, the judges selected four young couples as top producers based on progress in their farming operations, soil and water conservation practices, and contributions to their community.

The winners were:

Brandon and Ashley Bonk of Delaware. The couple grows wheat, soybeans, corn, potatoes and sweet potatoes on 5,700 acres. Their potatoes are sold into the chip market. Brandon’s degree in ag systems technology from Iowa State spurs his drive to incorporate technology on the farm. He designed and built a grading line for the farm’s potato operation. “I just envisioned what I wanted and built it to increase efficiency on the farm,” he said. The Bonks host the Delaware Tech Farm Tour at their farm near Magnolia.

Will and Heather Cabe of Georgia. Livestock diversification made returning to the farm possible for the Cabes. Their 600-acre farm near Cainesville, Ga., is home to cattle, goats and poultry. Will says decisions on the farm focus on the next generation, their children — Deacon, Teller and Emersyn. Animal operations work with the environment. Fencing systems allow cattle access to fresh water while improving waterways and pasture. Poultry litter is managed by a stack house. “It is all about leaving the land better than you found it,” Will added. Last year, the couple shared their story with 1,500 students by the way of a virtual farm tour.

Michael and Mary Beth Jackson of Iowa. Michael is a sixth-generation farmer from Oskaloosa, Iowa. The Jacksons have been farming the land there since 1890. He credits cover crops with improving soil health for the family’s corn and soybean production. “I’m all in on cover crops,” he said. “I’ve seen the difference it’s made since we started.” The family farming operation is devoted to on-farm research whether it is with the Iowa Soybean Association or the Practical Farmers of Iowa. These relationships have helped Michael determine the right planting rates, animal nutrient rates and cover crop strategies over the years. The couple uses Skype to share their agriculture story with classrooms as far away as Florida.

Doug and Maria Bichler of North Dakota. Doug started with only eight cows as part of a 4-H project. Today, he has grown the program into 250-cow operation that holds an annual bull and female production sale. The couple also ships live cattle and semen to Canada. However, they have high hopes for expanding into the Australian market. Doug was appointed as one of two representatives to the World Simmental Congress in Australia. “Some of the contacts I made there are actually coming to our sale this year,” Doug said. The Bichlers also have a custom feeding business, and they raise oat hay, corn silage and alfalfa.

About the organization

The National Outstanding Young Farmers Awards Congress was started in 1951 in Iowa by the U.S. Junior Chamber or Jaycees. Three years later, the group expanded the program nationally. 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.

The program brings awareness to the nation’s farmers and ranchers and raises awareness in urban areas about the importance and impact farmers have on the American economy.

“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. “We appreciate your dedication to improving your business operations and to sustaining and protecting the environment.”

Bendixson, an award finalist in 2002, urged the Class of 2020 to visit with its fellow finalists over the weekend. He along with his wife, Carmen, made friends across the country by attending the National Outstanding Young Farmer awards program over the years. “These are lasting relationships you make here,” he said.

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