National Outstanding Young Farmers winners show ag diversity

Slide show: A look at the top four winners of the National Outstanding Young Farmers contest.

At 17, Nick Cummings convinced his local banker to loan him money to buy a baler. At 19, he rented 25 acres. The first generation farmer was willing to do whatever it takes to make his dream of working the land a reality.

Today, Cummings raises corn, soybeans, wheat and hay, along with feeder cattle on nearly 2,000 acres in Fayette County Ohio.

Robby Bevis has been raising corn, soybeans and rice near Scott, Arkansas for 22 years. With every growing season, this fifth generation farmer looks for ways to improve his operation for the next generation. In the last five years, he has focused on soil health by adding cover crops.

From first generation to fifth generation, winners of this year's National Outstanding Young Farmers represent the diversity of American agriculture.

Selecting finalists

Cummings and his wife Sunny and Bevis and his wife Stephanie are just two of the four young farm couples named as 2018 National Outstanding Young Farmers. Rounding out the top spots are Ian and Val Plagge of Iowa and Sam and Jenn Zimmermann of Wisconsin.

The Plagges raise corn and soybeans near Latimer, Iowa. They also have two 1,250 head hog finishing barns. Val spends her time advocating for agriculture as part of the Common Ground online community working to bridge the gap between producers and consumers.

Sam Zimmermann retuned to farming eight years ago. The couple purchased 51 Holsteins cows to start the dairy operation back up. "We hadn't had dairy cows on the farm for since 1997 when our barn burnt," he said. Today, the Zimmermanns milk 190 cows.

The top four winners were selected from a group of 10 finalists. All of these young farmers completed an application process and in-person interview.

Honoring the elite

The National Outstanding Young Farmer award is one of the oldest farmer recognition programs in the U.S. dating back to 1955. To qualify farmers must be between 21 and 40 with farm operations where 2/3 of their income comes from farming.

The award is 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.

"I would love to stand here and tell you it was something I did to deserve this," Cummings told the group gathered in Sacramento, California, for the 62nd annual National Outstanding Young Farmers Awards Congress. "But it is about the relationship I had with others that helped me along the way."

Cummings spoke of the banker who loaned him money to buy his first baler. "He saw my desire and potential and was willing to invest in me," he added. "Without individuals encouraged me along the way, I would not be here."

For Bevis, the award was all about his family. "We want to leave the farm better for our kids," the father of three said. "We want them to be able to come back to the farm and continue that legacy." He added that ensuring soil health is one way to make the farm sustainable for generations to come.

Other finalists included Nathan and Amy Engelhard of Michigan, Louie and Amanda Nigg of South Dakota, Cody and Liz Bingham of Idaho, William and Cala Tabb of Mississippi, Jesse and Taylor Vanderwende of Delaware, and Daniel and Kristy Williams of Georgia.

Click on the slide show to learn more about the National Outstanding Young Farmer winners.

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