By TIM THORNBERRY
FRANKFORT, Ky. — There are more than 14,000 Kentucky FFA members, making it the largest of the student organizations in the state, and each year a growing number of those make it to the national convention as competitors.
This year is no exception. Kentucky will be well-represented once again, and topping the list are two candidates for the American Star award. Both are longtime FFA members. Both have an extensive background in agriculture and both will be ending their FFA careers, at least as members, at this year’s convention.
Alex Richardson from Meade County is a Star Farmer finalist, while Zach Cotton from Spencer County is a finalist in the Star in Agribusiness category. Kentucky FFA Advisor Brandon Davis said the amount of work these two gentlemen, both age 21, have put into their Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE) projects is mind-boggling.
“Both Alex and Zack are so very deserving of this recognition. For years they have methodically planned and expanded their enterprises. When you look at the results from those years of hard work, it is easy to see why they are in the running for this recognition,” he said.
“The tireless support provided by their families is inspiring, and the belief in those students held by their agriculture teachers is a true symbol of student-centered education. They represent what is possible when an FFA member sets high goals, dedicates their energy to finding success and believes in value of a dream.”
Richardson, a senior at Western Kentucky University, set his sights on production agriculture much like on the farm where he grew up. He now raises alfalfa, corn, soybeans and wheat, in addition to running a cattle operation. He said his career in FFA has been a big guiding factor in getting him to where he is now.
“I’ve known what I wanted to do for a long time – be a farmer and take over my family’s farm some day. It was natural to start an operation and use it for my project in FFA,” he said.
Just being named a finalist in one of the Star competitions is quite the honor, since only four individuals for each national category are named each year. Richardson was named the Kentucky Star Farmer in 2009 and said everything has led to this convention.
He added because this is his last convention as a member, he is sure it will be bittersweet, but he plans to remain active with the organization as an alumnus and help with his home chapter.
Cotton has operated a custom forage business for more than six years and started his project using equipment his family owned and used when raising cattle.
“I just fell into it by accident, really. We’ve got a lot of heavy development in residential homes, with a lot of one- to five-acre lots that weren’t being kept up,” he said. “I would cut the lots either for the hay or getting paid by the Realtor, as well as getting the hay.”
That small beginning led to the lease of a few farms, which now nets about 6,000-7,000 square bales each year, along with 800-900 rolls, yearly. Even in this drought year he was able to get 5,000 square bales and 800 rolls, most of which he has sold.
Having grown up on a farm that operated in many different areas of agriculture including dairy and tobacco, Cotton said his goal has been to get his own operation going that will include tobacco if his contract talks work out, and cattle, as well.
Cotton said having been involved in a well-respected FFA chapter like Spencer County’s has helped him in many ways through the past few years, including interacting with people. He credits being able to talk to other farmers, including the older generation, has taught him a lot.
“I’ve learned that you can learn so much just by talking to people,” he said.
This year’s convention will have a definite Kentucky flavor to it. Davis said with each Career Development Event, a team representing Kentucky will be involved, with seven members to compete in the Agriscience Fair, 15 chapters will be recognized during the National Chapter Awards for their effective and challenging program of activities and 11 national finalists will participate in their respective proficiency award areas.
“Add to that the thousands of FFA members that will attend the largest career show in North America, take part in the National Day of Service and be motivated during the convention sessions, it is easy to see how exciting this experience is for all involved,” he said.