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FFA Stars stay connected to agriculture through SAEs

Learn how three Kansas FFA Stars used their SAE projects to propel them to success.

January 23, 2024

6 Min Read
Abby Porter, Beloit, Kan
AG PLACEMENT: Abby Porter of Beloit, Kan., says her work at a local veterinary hospital as part of her FFA SAE led her to not only earning the 2023 Star in Ag Placement award from Kansas FFA, but also to a career path in the veterinary field. Claire Geiger

by Claire Geiger

After years of hard work and perseverance, three Kansas FFA members have a better appreciation for the Kansas state motto: “Ad astra per aspera.”

Ella Pachta, Christian Peña and Abby Porter were named the newest Kansas State FFA Stars for their work in their respective Supervised Agricultural Experiences, or SAEs, during the 2023 state FFA convention.

Ella Pachta, Belleville, Kan.,

Ella Pachta, Star Farmer

Between managing her cattle herd, operating farm equipment and pitching in wherever needed on her family’s farm in Belleville, Kan., Ella Pachta is no stranger to production agriculture. Becoming the 2023 State FFA Star Farmer was the natural culmination of years of involvement, work and perseverance.

Pachta, a Kansas State University freshman studying agricultural economics with a minor in animal science and a beef cattle range management certificate, was awarded Star Farmer for her SAE in Forage Production and Beef Production Agricultural Entrepreneurship.

Pachta manages a herd of 20 beef cattle alongside her family’s larger herd of about 230. She helps make nearly 1,500 acres of hay each year with her family’s business, Pachta Hay Farm. Pachta also independently manages 22 acres of alfalfa, which feeds her herd.

While Pachta has always loved cattle, it took some support from her family to begin her journey into the industry.

“When I was younger, there was one year where I wanted to show a cow at the fair,” Pachta said. “My dad was reluctant, but my brother ended up helping me, and so I pulled this little heifer from the feedlot, put a halter on it and took it to the fair.”

As the years progressed, Pachta continued to show cattle, and as a freshman in high school, she purchased seven cows to begin her own herd. Throughout high school, Pachta built her herd up and became more involved in forage production. She uses her own heifers as replacements and is proud to say that the bloodline she began with all those years ago still runs through her herd today. 

As a student, Pachta often travels home to help on the farm. When she can’t be there in person, Pachta is happy to call or video-chat with family members to provide advice.

On campus, Pachta is active in the Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness Club and K-State Collegiate Cattlewomen. After graduating, she is considering a career in farm management to help other producers balance finance and production agriculture.

Claire Geiger - says Kansas State FFA President Christian Peña, Sublette, Kan.

Christian Peña, Star in Agribusiness

As a small-business owner in Sublette, Kan., Kansas State FFA President Christian Peña epitomizes the values the organization’s Star in Agribusiness award is geared toward.

Peña, a K-State freshman majoring in agribusiness, became a Star in Agribusiness for his SAE of owning his lawn-care business. What began as a regular chore for a neighbor quickly grew into a profitable business that Peña still operates today.

“At first, I started mowing my neighbor’s lawn when I was 8 years old, and it trickled throughout the town,” Peña said.  “By the time I was in middle school, I was mowing 25 yards a week.”

Peña’s business, Elite Mowing and Snow Removal, has since grown into a lawn-landscape business specializing in lawn maintenance, landscaping and seasonal snow removal. With the help of his parents, Peña oversees the daily operations and two full-time employees.

The addition of full-time employees has helped Peña further develop his business skills and reflect on where he began.

“Learning how to manage employees and work with people who don’t think like you is something I’m grateful for, and they’ve given me a lot of grace. I don’t know everything, so I’ve learned a lot from them,” Peña said. “Looking back, I wouldn’t change anything. The only thing I would do is make it bigger.”

At K-State, Peña remains involved in his business by doing the billing and going home when possible. On campus, he is involved in the Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness Club, Quest Freshman Honorary, and the Golf Course Superintendents Association. In December 2023, Peña plans to run for a K-State Student Foundation position.

After graduation, Peña plans to return home and continue running his lawn-care business, while also transitioning into a management position in his family’s business, S & S Rock Crushing, Inc.

courtesy of  Kansas FFA Association - The 2023 Kansas Star Award winners

Abby Porter, Star in Ag Placement

For K-State freshman Abby Porter, the journey to becoming the 2023 Kansas State FFA Star in Ag Placement began by volunteering at the Solomon Veterinary Hospital in Beloit, Kan., as a 12-year-old.

By the time Porter was a high school freshman, she was prepping for surgeries and exploring the world of large-animal veterinary sciences. Since then, Porter has continued to expand her skills by administering medications, assisting with surgeries and completing computer-based administrative tasks.

For Porter, one of her most fulfilling responsibilities has been teaching new employees.

“When new hires came along, I would teach them things that I had learned when I was younger,” Porter said. “It was really exciting for me to see that my expertise had grown and that I could teach others.”

Through her SAE, Porter has also had opportunities to enhance her people skills and learn more about her rural community.

“I developed my people skills and learned how to communicate with customers, and that grew into the reason I want to become a vet,” Porter said. “The people are really where it’s at. I love working with people and getting to know them, and now I know more people in my community.”

As a pre-veterinary medicine student with a leadership studies minor, Porter has since taken a step back from her SAE to work at K-State’s Parasitology Laboratory. She is also involved in the Pre-Veterinary Medicine Club, Bakery Science Club, Quest Freshman Honorary, and the Fur, Scales and Fins Club, a group for exotic animal enthusiasts.

After finishing her undergraduate degree, Porter plans to complete her doctor of veterinary medicine at K-State. Afterward, she hopes to become a small- and large-animal veterinarian in western Kansas, and later open her own practice.

Geiger is a freelance writer and student at Kansas State University. She lives in Manhattan, Kan.

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