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Outstanding Farmers of America taps Arkansas, Missouri, New Jersey and Wisconsin couples as next-gen leaders in agriculture.

Mindy Ward, Editor, Missouri Ruralist

February 20, 2024

6 Min Read
2024 National Outstanding Young Farmers: Brody and Carolyn Stapel, Wisconsin
CELEBRATING NEXT GEN: The Outstanding Farmers of America gathered in the state of Washington on Feb. 15-18 to honor the past and encourage the future. Through a selection and interview process, the group names finalists and the top four young farmers to receive the National Outstanding Young Farmers Award. Photos by Mindy Ward

At a Glance

  • National Outstanding Young Farmers select 2024 winners.
  • First gen and legacy farmers take steps to build and sustain operations.
  • Innovation, conservation and community service rise to the top.

From raising poultry to pigs and dairy cows to spinach, the nation’s top young farmers are a diverse group.

Selected by the Outstanding Farmers of America, four farmers, all under the age of 41, achieved the highest honor in the oldest farmer recognition program in the U.S., which started in 1955 — the National Outstanding Young Farmers Award.

“Technology plays a larger role in farming, and these younger people adapt more quickly,” says New Mexico farmer Don Hartman, president of Outstanding Young Farmers of America. “This group of winners are truly the best in the nation in terms of innovation, conservation and community service.”

“These young farmers, from our four winners to the other six finalists, value their land and their families,” says Cheryl Hartman, a farmer from New Mexico. “That is important to the sustainability of not only their farm, but also agriculture.”

Here is a closer look at the 2024 National Outstanding Young Farmers:

2024 National Outstanding Young Farmers: Brandon and Lauren Martin, Arkansas

Brandon and Lauren Martin, Arkansas

Brandon Martin is the sixth generation to farm in north-central Arkansas. But to make his own mark on the family operation, he became a first-generation poultry producer.

“We have six commercial broiler houses that we grow for Ozark Mountain Poultry,” Brandon says of the business he operates with his wife, Lauren. The couple are able to use chicken litter as a natural fertilizer for pastures and hay ground.

A full-time farmer, Brandon also carries on the family tradition of raising registered Hereford cattle, which dates back to 1936.

The couple owns 40 head of registered Hereford cows where they sell bulls for seedstock. They retain most of the heifers, while selling some privately. The Martins also have a commercial herd of beef cattle, selling mainly to cow-calf operations.

Brandon says the family relies on grazing practices for sustainability. They implement rotational grazing and strip grazing to extend forage and improve the soil, he adds. This type of system extends the grazing season and reduces fertilizer and herbicide use on the farm.

“For us to find success and be able to be full time on the farm together and branch out on our own has been such a blessing,” Lauren says. “To raise our sons in that environment, we just really love it. It's just really exciting seeing them grow up in the same legacy that Brandon grew up in.”

2024 National Outstanding Young Farmers: Travis and Bethany Dixon, Missouri

Travis and Bethany Dixon, Missouri

Like many young farmers, Travis Dixon first worked off the farm, but his passion for raising row crops called. However, it took a leap of faith into pork production to gain those acres.

“About 12 years ago, we started a 7,500-head hog operation, and that was our foot in the door,” Travis says of the farm he owns with wife Bethany. “I was doing everything I could to turn some money.”

Then after his grandfather’s death, the small family farm became available. Travis was able to purchase everything and finally start his row crop operation. That was five years ago.

Today, the Dixons turned 400 acres into 1,500 acres, and next year should be a little over 2,000 acres, either through owning or renting the land.

Travis employs ridge till for flat land and cover crops for erosion-prone hills. He manages his acres with precision technology such as in-furrow nutrition. “I like to say that we spoon-feed our acres. We put the right thing out at the right time in the right way,” he says.

The Dixons conduct on-farm trials and share the results with other farmers. Always pushing forward, Travis wants to figure out new and innovative ways to maximize crop management practices while regenerating the soil.

“People will tell you that a lot of things are impossible, that it was impossible to break into farming from scratch,” Travis adds. “I’m here to tell you they are wrong. It can be done.”

2024 National Outstanding Young Farmers: Byron and Karen DuBois, New Jersey

Byron and Karen DuBois, New Jersey

Variety. That is what Byron and Karen DuBois enjoy about their family farming operation.

DuBois Spring Brook Farms in southwestern New Jersey is roughly 3,600 acres comprised of nine crops. While those acres include the traditional corn and soybeans, the DuBois’ main cash crops are spinach, sweet corn and tomatoes.

Byron, a seventh-generation farmer, finds sustainability works by being efficient. Coming into the operation, he made changes to production practices around the spinach crop. Bringing in GPS autosteer technology along with adjusting ground preparation, the family saw efficiency and productivity of their crop increase by 25%.

The operation uses no-till or minimum-till practices on corn and soybeans to reduce soil erosion and moisture evaporation. Byron also supports grassed waterway programs through the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program to further reduce erosion and improve drainage. The farm is completely irrigated, mainly with center pivots.

“One thing we strive for is trying to be the most efficient as possible in what we do and to grow the best quality,” he says. “We look at it as if you grow the best quality, the yield will follow. And you can always sell a quality product.”

For Karen, telling agriculture’s story goes beyond the farm. A third-grade special education teacher, she grew up in 4-H and FFA.

“Those programs made a big impact on my life,” she says, “so I started an after-school ag club at our elementary school.” Karen adds that sharing her family’s journey in agriculture is important for the next generation to understand the origin of food.

2024 National Outstanding Young Farmers: Brody and Carolyn Stapel, Wisconsin

Brody and Carolyn Stapel, Wisconsin

Brody Stapel grew up on a dairy farm and hated it, so he left. It wasn’t until he was expecting his oldest child that he turned to his wife and said, “We should raise our family on a farm.”

In 2012, Brody and Carolyn returned to the shores of Lake Michigan in east-central Wisconsin and started Double Dutch Dairy with his brother and dad. With roughly 265 head of Holstein and Jersey cows, their milk is processed into Sargento string cheese.

“We’ve chased innovation and technology ever since,” Brody says.

The Stapel family runs about 1,000 acres of corn, soybeans, non-GMO soybeans and wheat. They also grow rye for cover crop seed.

“We started with the moldboard plow in 2012, and now we sold all of our tillage equipment and are completely no-till,” he says. “We strive to have a living root on every acre throughout the growing season and the six months of winter that we get up in Wisconsin.”

The Stapels are constantly looking for new opportunities to grow the farming business.

In 2021, they purchased a neighbor’s farm and started Hand Creek Cattle, a beef cattle feedlot that finishes roughly 1,000 head per year. In 2024, they will launch Farm Stapels, an on-farm creamery that will deliver milk, yogurt and ice cream in glass bottles to 250 households each week.

“I’ve really enjoyed as a young farmer following in the footsteps of giants in the industry and being able to learn and glean knowledge and really mentored us as we got our business going,” Brody adds.

Other NOYF Award finalists include:

  • Dainel and Carla Trantham, Alabama

  • Eric and Jordyn Correia, California

  • Ivey and Austin Booker, Georgia

  • Quentin and Jill Connealy, Nebraska

  • Blake and Laci O’Hare, New Mexico

  • Ryan and Jennifer Clark, Pennsylvania

Check back next week for more on these six young farmers.

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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