By Ethan Giebel
The National FFA Organization has selected 16 students from throughout the United States as finalists for its top student achievement awards for 2014. Four finalists are selected in each of the four categories, American Star Farmer, American Star Farmer, American Star in Agribusiness, American Star in Agricultural Placement and American Star in Agriscience. These awards recognize FFA members who have developed their skills in the field of agriculture through their supervised agricultural experience programs. Students must have demonstrated outstanding management skills, have earned an American FFA Degree, and met other agricultural education, scholarship and leadership requirements.
Two Wisconsin FFA members have been selected as American Star Finalists this year. Thomas Allen of the Reedsburg FFA Chapter has been selected in the American Star Farmer category and Thomas Larson from the Viroqua FFA Chapter has been selected in the area of American Star in Agribusiness.
Allen is from Reedsburg and graduated from Reedsburg High School in 2012. His Supervised Agricultural Experience involves breeding elite registered Jersey cattle with an emphasis on producing progeny with high genomic values. He is quick to credit others with his success.
"My entire family and FFA advisors have been very supportive of me and my SAE program," said Allen. "My grandpa, David Allen, is the one who taught me many of the skills I use every day and has provided many resources for my projects."
Always looking to learn more about dairy genetics, Allen conducted an internship during the summer of 2013 at City Slickers Farm LLC in Cross Plains. With one semester left at Northeast Iowa Community College where he is seeking a dairy science degree, Allen has his sights set on the future.
"Now that I am close to finishing school, I am looking to buy into my family's farm," said Allen. "Expanding my program by adding more donor dams is the next step for me. I am very committed to producing quality cattle. I hope to continue sending bulls to A.I. and marketing females around the world. It's all about quality animals and making a positive impact on the Jersey breed. Additionally, it is important to me that I continue to use the All-Lynn prefix to continue a proud family tradition."
In 2012, Allen was recognized as the winner of the National FFA dairy production entrepreneurship proficiency area. During 2013, he was named Wisconsin's State Star Farmer.
Larson hails from Viroqua and graduated from Viroqua High School in 2012. An agribusiness Supervised Agricultural Experience program was born when he bought his first snowmobile in 2008. Since that time, Larson has grown an impressive business out of buying chainsaws, trimmers, rototillers, Jet Skis, ATVs, UTVs, lawn mowers, mopeds, dirt bikes and motorcycles in disrepair.
"Buying, fixing and re-selling comprises about 80% of my business," said Larson. "The other part of my business is fixing machines for customers."
Larson credits his parents with helping him get started.
"I couldn't have done it alone," said Larson. "My parents Kevin and Julie Larson have been influential. They have allowed me to grow my business out of our farm shop and the use of a truck to pick up my purchases."
With a major in biological systems engineering, Larson will be entering his junior year at University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has conducted engineering internship programs with Kuhn North America and Polaris Industries. Down the road, he plans to work on complex machines and advance his knowledge in order to work on a wider variety of machines.
"After college, I plan to work at an agricultural or power sports company to design products that will help people in agriculture be more profitable and efficient," said Larson.
In 2013, Larson was named Wisconsin's State Star in Agribusiness.
During the 2014 National FFA Convention in Louisville, Ky., a panel of judges will interview the finalists. The convention runs Oct. 29 through Nov. 1. One winner will be selected in each of the star categories. Each star finalist receives a cash prize of $2,000 from the National FFA Foundation and earns the opportunity to participate in an international agriculture experience. The four winners will each receive an additional $2,000 cash award for their efforts.
Giebel is a student at UW-Platteville.