Grady Johnson, a 21-year-old farmer from Holdrege, was awarded the top FFA honor, the American Star Farmer Award at this year’s National FFA Convention and Expo in Indianapolis.
Growing up with his family farm’s operation, Johnson always had a passion for agriculture. He knew from a young age that he wanted to be involved in FFA, largely because of his family.
“I’ve always had a passion for farming,” Johnson said. “The FFA gave me the opportunity to grow more and be an industry leader. Also, competing at the same time kind of pushed me to keep going.”
Johnson’s father received the American Star Farmer Award 30 years ago in 1991.
“The American Star Awards represent the best of the best among thousands of American FFA Degree recipients,” according to a press release from the FFA. “The award recognizes FFA members who have developed outstanding agricultural skills and competencies by completing a supervised agricultural experience (SAE) program.”
Johnson began his SAE project the summer after his freshman year of high school. He began fattening 60-pound feeder lambs up to 160 pounds, and then sold them directly to packers across the country. He wanted to expand, so he bought breeding ewes and raised their lambs during the winter.
During his senior year of high school, Johnson started a forage operation that included baling and selling cornstalks to local producers. His SAE also consisted of working for his dad’s operation, as well as leasing some of his own farm ground.
According to a press release from the FFA, other requirements to achieve a star award include, “demonstrating top management skills; completing key agricultural education, scholastic and leadership requirements; and earning an American FFA Degree.” An American FFA Degree is the highest accomplishment in the National FFA Organization, for students who show a dedication to their chapter and the state FFA association.
Jeff Moore, Johnson’s FFA advisor, said the American Star Farmer Award is the most prestigious, individual honor that an FFA member can earn. Moore said the biggest aspect of Johnson’s SAE was the sheep, crop production and baling aspects of his project. However, his leadership throughout his experience in the FFA gave him the skills to be able to achieve this award.
Moore encouraged Johnson, not only through pursuing this award, but through all of his FFA activities in high school. Whether this was proofreading applications, taking pictures, or just consulting Johnson on different ideas.
“[The award] is recognition of what our students are capable of doing,” Moore said.
Johnson became involved with the Holdrege High School FFA chapter his freshman year of high school and remained involved at the chapter level all four years. He then went on to serve as a state secretary from 2018-19.
“It was cool to know what I’ve worked for in my whole high school career and college career finally paid off,” Johnson said.
Johnson is now a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, studying agricultural economics. When he graduates in May 2022, he plans to move back to the farm, located west of Holdrege.
He said the FFA allows students, especially ones who do not come from a farm background, to be involved and learn about agriculture.
“If I could just give any advice to anybody starting out on FFA, just kind of let it take you where you want it to take you and take advantage of the opportunity while you can,” Johnson said.