The Michigan Farm Bureau recognizes the up-and-coming leaders of Michigan agriculture, including four finalists in the Achievement category.
The Young Farmer Achievement Award recognizes successful young farmers who derive most of their income from an owned production agriculture enterprise and showcases their achievements in the business of farming. Applicants may apply as a couple or an individual.
The 2021 state winner will receive a Kubota tractor; a $1,000 AgroLiquid gift certificate; up to $1,000 of business or estate consultation from Clark Hill; and an all-expense paid trip to the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting to compete in the national competition.
The four finalists for MFB’s 2021 Young Farmer Achievement Award are:
Ben and Jessica Bryant. The couple keep a small beef herd near Shepherd, farming with Ben's parents Joe and Beth Bryant, grandparents Bill and Ellen Bryant, and their young daughters, Ally and Julia. Both Jessica and Ben are active members of the Isabella County Farm Bureau.
On the crop side, the family farm has grown to include 50 acres of wheat and 300 acres each of corn and soybeans.
“I’m most proud of growing to the point where we are large enough to support the family without outside income,” Ben says. “I’m also proud that my children will be able to grow up involved with the farm as I did.”
Aside from the traditional commodities, Jessica’s also at the wheel of a cut-flower business involving a greenhouse, retail bouquet sales and a rapidly expanding autumn mum operation.
As the Bryants’ business continues to grow on all sides, they look forward to eventually adding ag education components to help their customers better understand agriculture, whether it’s putting food on the table or beautifying their homes.
Robyn Fogarasi. Fogarasi farms near Sterling, raising more than 300 beef cattle along with corn, soybeans, wheat, hay and pastureland. With husband, Byron, and youngsters Ryder and Rose, they do custom fieldwork for neighbors as they gradually expand the farm the family has worked for four generations.
A member of the Arenac County Farm Bureau, Robyn forsook the professional business world after getting a whiff of life on the farm, where she’s responsible for much of the planning and decision-making, as well as hands-on tasks such as feeding and nutrient management.
“I am most proud of the sustainable practices we have been able to implement in our farming methods while growing our operation,” Robyn says. “I am also proud that the farm has remained in my family for over 100 years, and I hope to someday pass along the farm to my children to continue our legacy.”
With several neighbors nearing retirement, Robyn looks to grow the farm and boost profitability on both the crop and livestock sides of the business.
Ashley Kennedy. Kennedy milks 240 head alongside her husband, Eric, and their youngsters, Calli and Adeline. The farm outside Bad Axe also boasts about 600 replacement heifers, 60 steers and 240 acres of corn and hay.
An active member of the Huron County Farm Bureau, Ashley takes considerable pride in the farm’s automated calf feeder barn.
“Building the feeder barn meant completely changing how we manage calves,” she says. “I won’t lie. We have had a lot of growing pains, but today I am raising healthier and bigger calves than ever.”
As a co-owner of the family dairy, Ashley handles everything from herd care and employee management to record keeping and fieldwork. Technology plays a big role in the operation’s prosperity, with four robotic milkers and automated feeding systems.
The farm is a study in measured generational transition, with Ashley and her husband gradually taking ownership one component at a time, along with taking on equipment investments and building projects. Future goals include further diversification and moving toward more direct-to-consumer marketing of niche products such as heirloom beans and Wagyu beef.
Isaiah Wunsch. Wunsch is a sixth-generation fruit grower managing a family operation on Old Mission Peninsula — 900 total acres mostly devoted to sweet cherries and honeycrisp apples. Working closely with his mother Barb, wife Attia, and Wunsch Farms COO Raul Gomez, Isaiah strives to uphold the legacy of his father, Josh, whose unexpected death in 2018 stole a luminary from the regional fruit industry.
A passionate farmer and policy advocate, the Northwest Michigan Farm Bureau member takes pride in scaling up the farm’s fresh cherry-packing and marketing operations in recent years.
“Our goal is to have a grow-ship-pack operation that is exceptional not only at the local level, but relative to the best producers in the world,” Isaiah says. “We would like to see Michigan fill a late-season niche in global fresh sweet cherry production. Our philosophy is to build an industry that will keep cherries viable in northwest Michigan, protect our farmland resources and offer opportunity to future generations.”
Recent upgrades at Wunsch Farms include high-density plantings, new cherry varieties for expanding harvest into August, and a U-pick agritourism component launched two years ago.