Earlier this month, The Nebraska Corn Growers Association announce the winners of the 2020 Future Leaders in Agriculture Scholarship Program.
The five winners for this year are: Mitchell Manning of Fairmont, Nebraska, Payton Schiller of Scribner, Ryan Brown of Gothenburg, Kara Kudera of Clarkson and Josie Vyhnalek of Friend.
The FLAGship Program is a scholarship program intended for future agricultural leaders in Nebraska. The NeCGA awards up to five $2,000 scholarships to high school seniors or college freshman who are continuing their education in the state of Nebraska. Three of the scholarships are set aside strictly for those students pursuing a degree directly related to agriculture.
In a statement released by the NeCGA, Carl Sousek, Chairman of the Grower Services Committee, said he wanted to congratulate each student who was chosen to receive a scholarship. The applications this year were impressive and choosing only five was difficult, he said.
Since 2016, the NeCGA has awarded scholarships to potential difference-makers in Nebraska agribusiness. In that time, the scholarships have provided recipients access to a broader ag world.
Justin Mensik, 20, of Morse Bluff, Nebraska, earned his scholarship in 2019. He is currently a sophomore at Northeast Community College in Norfolk, Nebraska. The fifth generation farmer plans to use the scholarship to earn himself a “college degree or two,” then return to the family farm and use that knowledge to enhance operations there.
“The FLAGship program is a great way to help kids achieve their educational goals and dreams,” Mensik said. “I cannot thank the Nebraska Corn Growers Association enough for choosing me for this generous award.”
Korbin Kudera, 20, of Clarkson, Nebraska, is a sophomore at UNL. He is an agronomy major with an Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship minor. Also a 2019 FLAGship participant, Kudera said he believes the most persistent issue facing agriculture is the disconnect a majority of people have from agriculture.
“A lot of people in urban areas have not been on a farm or can have conversations with farmers,” Kudera said. “This has led to some misconceptions about agriculture.”
The fourth-generation farmer said his goal is be a vocal activist for agriculture while also implementing sustainable farming practices at his family’s operation. These include no-till, cover crops and better fertilizer application methods, he said.
“I have been an advocate for agriculture by having conversations about agriculture with people that do not come from a farming background,” Kudera said. “Being an advocate also means doing things that make agriculture more environmentally friendly.”
Emily Frenzen, 21, of Fullerton, Nebraska, is a senior at UNL. She is majoring in agricultural and environmental sciences communication and minoring in Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship as well as leadership and communication. Frenzen was a 2017 FLAGship program scholarship winner.
“I chose agricultural communications as my major because I am passionate about uncovering the stories of agriculturists — something that isn’t done often enough,” Frenzen said. “I love to write and talk about agriculture.”
A fourth-generation farmer, she said agriculture is the most wholehearted labor of love between a person and the land and its creatures. She believes people are hungry for a connection, whether it’s through a conversation or an image.
“Capturing and sharing the real, incredible milestones happening in agriculture today is more relevant than it was yesterday,” Frenzen said. “I am certain it will be even more relevant tomorrow.”
Even though she enjoys speaking and writing about agriculture, photography is her preferred medium when it comes to advocating for agriculture. She launched her photography business, Stella Imaging, in 2018.
Farmers and ranchers are her favorite the clients. The dignity of farmers and ranchers is captured and shared too seldom, she said.
“Some are fifth-generation cattle ranch families living on an original homestead,” Franzen said. “Others are first-generation farmers who have joyful hearts that quite literally tick for the planting of seeds.”
Each has a unique story to share and each one matters, she said.
Heidi Borg, 21, of Allen, Nebraska, is a junior at UNL. She is studying agricultural economics and public policy. She received her FLAGship scholarship in 2017.
A sixth-generation farmer, Borg agrees with Kudera that the major issue facing agriculture across the country is the lack of consumer knowledge of how their food is produced. She said her awareness of the problem was intensified after leaving the farm for a few years and living in the city while attending college.
One of her political science instructors questioned whether agriculture is a big part of Nebraska. Borg said this exemplifies how far even some Nebraskans are removed from the reality of agriculture.
“Many people do not understand the production process which creates a lack of trust between the producer and the consumer,” Borg said. “Nine out of 10 consumers want to see food transparency. We, as producers, need to be willing to provide that.”
Agriculture is very misunderstood today in the world we live in, she said. She believes that being an advocate for agriculture is a big part of busting the myths of food production.
“I have found my place for advocating is in politics,” Borg said. “I currently work for a state senator at the Nebraska Legislature. This gives me opportunities to share real-life experiences with lawmakers lacking a rural background.”
She said one of the main issues facing Nebraskans is property taxes. She said the times she has had to explain the burden that this has created on Nebraska farmers is innumerable. Borg said that sharing personal experiences from her family’s farm gives individuals an opportunity to see and learn more about agriculture.
Maggie Vyhnalek, 19, of Friend, Nebraska, is sophomore at UNL studying agriculture education. She, too, is an active advocate for property tax reform.
“The issue has not yet been resolved,” Vyhnalek said. “It is an ongoing concern that farmers and ranchers are dealing with.”
The fifth-generation farmer is a 2018 FLAGship recipient. An FFA alumnus, she plans to advocate for agriculture through the edification of young minds.
“I will be able to teach the future of the agriculture industry,” Vyhnalek said. “We could create more and more advocates for our industry.”
Andy Jobman, vice-president of the NeCGA believes that is the best possible outcome. He stated the future of the agriculture industry is in great hands.
To be eligible for this scholarship students must be a member of NeCGA or the son/daughter of a NeCGA member. Applicants are also asked to explain how they will advocate for agriculture in their future career, as well as what issues they feel the ag industry is currently facing.
For more information about the Nebraska Corn Growers Association and the Future Leaders in Agriculture Scholarship Program, please visit necga.org or call 402-438-6459.