SD FFA members named finalists for National FFA’s most prestigious award

Farm Forum

The National FFA Organization has selected Ethan VanderWal of the Sioux Valley FFA Chapter and Matt Eichacker of the McCook Central FFA Chapter as finalists for the American Star in Agribusiness and American Star in Agricultural Placement awards, respectively.

For Ethan VanderWal, his love for agriculture started by riding in the tractor with his grandfather as a young boy. With the help of his father, he started his own business. The South Dakota FFA member works for his family’s farm while operating a hay baling business. Since he started his own enterprise, he has rolled more than 28,000 acres of hay with his own equipment.

“Knowing that I am able to identify ways to improve my business, increase profits and be able to serve customers, keeps me motivated to operate a thriving and successful business,” he said.

Studying agriculture production at Lake Area Technical Institute, he hopes to return to his family’s farm and his enterprise. VanderWal is the son of Kent and Shawn VanderWal and his FFA advisor is Don Sutera.

Matt Eichacker grew up like most farm kids, eager to run equipment, maintain livestock and work alongside his family. While in junior high, Eichacker knew he wanted to pursue production agriculture as a career.

Eichacker has three employers – his father and uncle, Denny Pearson Farms, and Central Farmers. His family operates a 5,700 acre farm, growing soybeans, corn, oats and alfalfa and managing 330 cow and calf pairs.

“The knowledge I have gained has helped me in my studies and made me realize how important producers are to our economy,” he said. “It is easy to stay motivated as I have yet to find an area in agriculture I do not get excited about.”

An agronomy student at South Dakota State University, Eichacker wants to return to his family’s farm and expand the operation. He wants to follow in his dad and uncle’s footsteps someday and create a partnership with his cousin. He is the son of David and Jolene Eichacker and his FFA advisor is Terry Rieckman

The American Star awards, including the American Star Farmer, American Star in Agribusiness, American Star in Agricultural Placement and American Star in Agriscience, are awarded to FFA members who demonstrate outstanding agricultural skills and competencies through completion of a supervised agricultural experience program. An SAE allows students to learn by doing by either owning and operating an agricultural business, working or serving an internship at an agriculture–based business or conducting an agriculture–based scientific experiment and reporting results.

Other requirements to achieve the award include demonstrating top management skills; completing key agricultural education, scholastic and leadership requirements; and earning an American FFA Degree, the organization’s highest level of student accomplishment.

Sixteen American Star award finalists from throughout the U.S. are nominated for a panel of judges to interview during convention. Four are named winners and receive cash awards totaling $4,000. All American Star finalists receive a $2,000 cash award.