The winners of the National Outstanding Young Farmers award for 2021 and 2022 at the annual NOYF Awards Congress held in Hilton Head Island, SC, Feb. 3-6, 2022. The oldest farmer recognition program in the United States, NOYF honored finalists from across the nation for the past two years after postponing the event in 2021.
Those named national winners for 2022 are Matt and Jenna Kilgus of Illinois, Richie and Sarah Heinrich of North Dakota, Hunter and Laura Grills of Tennessee, and Joe and Ashley Dudkiewicz of Wisconsin. Winners for NOYF 2021 are Matt and Melissa Bottoms of Georgia, Hillary Barile of New Jersey, Joroen and Traci van der Ploeg of New Mexico, and Philip and Laura Finger of Wisconsin. They were selected for the award based on their progress in an agricultural career, extent of soil and water conservation practices, and contributions to the well-being of the community, state, and nation. National winners received a savings bond from corporate sponsor John Deere and the opportunity to represent the NOYF program at future agricultural events.
Matt and Jenna Kilgus of Fairbury, Illinois, operate a dairy farm, milking 150 Jerseys, along with raising beef, a farrow to finish hog operation, and a goat meat business along with crops of corn, soybeans, and wheat. Matt added a creamery, processing and selling milk under his family’s private label, as well as an on-farm country store.
Richie and Sarah Heinrich of Medina, North Dakota, raise cash crops and cattle on the Heinrich family farm established in 1939 by Richie’s grandparents. They have incorporated Sarah’s family cattle business into the operation, holding a joint production sale with Sarah’s parents each year to market registered bulls and bred heifers.
Hunter and Laura Grills are ninth-generation row crop and beef cattle farmers from Newbern, Tennessee. The Grills grow soybeans, corn, triticale, and Angus beef cattle with a goal to be profitable and practical while maintaining a high level of professionalism to ensure every dollar invested is yielding a high return.
Joe and Ashley Dudkiewicz of Crivitz, Wisconsin, grow corn, soybeans, wheat, hay, and cattle in the same area of the original family homestead. Selling farm products directly to the consumer has increased their returns, including direct marketing of beef, selling bagged corn as wildlife feed, and selling smaller bales of hay and straw.
The other finalists for the 2022 award were Seth and Kaylee Hubert of Alabama, Suzie Flores of Connecticut, Clayton and Cassidy Waller of Georgia, Terry and Jody Page of Michigan, and Michael and Corey Beneduce of New Jersey.
Matt and Melissa Bottoms of Concord, GA, operate both a nursery and a row crop farm. As a fifth-generation farmer, Bottoms has focused on increasing yields, improving plant quality, and marketing his products while working closely with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Hillary Barile of Shiloh, NJ, produces sod, wheat, barley, and soybeans on Rabbit Hill Farms. Transitioning away from potato farming and into malthouse sales has expanded the business in a more profitable direction.
Jeroen and Traci van der Ploeg of Clovis, NM, raise wheat, corn, and beef cattle along with their dairy operation. The van der Ploegs have diversified their farm by incorporating a milk and yogurt company as well as a specialty shop to direct market their products.
Philip and Laura Finger of Oconto, WI, operate a dairy and grow alfalfa, corn, and soybeans. Concentrating on meeting milk production goals and improving soil quality have been top priorities for the Fingers.
The other finalists for the 2021 award were Allyson Angelini of Connecticut, Jarred and Shelby Moose of Iowa, Gary and Tina Schoenfeld of Minnesota, and John and Morgan Morrison of Washington.
The NOYF program selected its first group of national winners in 1955. The program is sponsored by John Deere, administered by the Outstanding Farmers of America, and supported by the U.S. Jaycees, the National Association of Conservation Districts, and the National Association of County Agricultural Agents.
Source: Outstanding Farmers of America