HOLLOWAY, Minn. – A fulltime farmer from the Lac qui Parle Valley FFA Chapter was selected for one of the top awards from the National FFA Organization – American Star Farmer.

Joe Arnold, 22, joins five Minnesotans who have received the American Star designation in the last 20 years.

The American Star Awards are presented to FFA members who demonstrate outstanding agricultural skills and competencies through the completion of a Supervised Agricultural Experience. These awards represent the best among thousands of American FFA Degree recipients.

Each state FFA association recommends four American Star Award candidates – one for each of four award areas.

The National FFA Organization selects four finalists per award area, who are contacted in May. Following review of their materials and a 20-minute interview at the National FFA Convention, a winner is selected in each area.

Along with Joe’s selection as American Star Farmer, Kellie Einck of Paullina, Iowa was named the American Star in Ag Placement, Chrysta Beck of Archbold, Ohio received the Star in Agriscience, and Austin Nordyke of Hugoton, Kan. received the American Star in Agribusiness.

Joe’s advisor is Wes Anderson, who has taught at Lac qui Parle since 1985.

Wes was recently recognized as one of six U.S. teacher mentors by the National Association for Ag Educators.

“We think very highly of Wes Anderson and what he’s done to help Joe and other students,” said Lynette Arnold, Joe’s mother.

Farm background

Joe is a third-generation farmer, following in the footsteps of his grandparents, Vernon and Joan, and parents, Dan and Lynette, of Swift County, Moyer Township.

In the 1970s, Vernon got involved in growing sugarbeets along with crop farming. The crop was fairly new to the area, but the Arnolds did well growing sugarbeets.

While attending Ridgewater Community and Technical College, known as Willmar Vo-Tech, Dan was intrigued with the idea of growing sugarbeets. He purchased shares in the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative, in Renville, while still in college.

“The first crop was 1975, so it was just getting going,” said Dan. “They had some real tough financial times during that. It was fortunate to buy the shares really reasonable at that time.”

After college, Dan farmed with his two brothers and parents. The Arnolds raised sugarbeets, navy beans, corn and soybeans – crops they continue to raise today.

Dan and Lynette, who is retired from registered nursing, also raised kids: Jacob (now married to Laura, with granddaughter Adalynn); Joe, who graduated from University of Minnesota Crookston before returning to farming; Jenny, a junior at North Dakota State University, and Josh, a freshman at South Dakota State University.

Joe signed up for ag courses as a ninth grader and joined FFA in tenth grade out at Lac qui Parle School – a consolidated high school serving students from Appleton, Madison, Holloway, Milan and the surrounding area. The school is located in Lac qui Parle County and is a 25-mile drive one way for the Arnolds.

Joe got involved in FFA anyway.

For his Supervised Agricultural Experience, a required component of a total agricultural education program, Joe studied Farm Business Management, and competed at the regional and state level with his farm records.

“He keeps immaculate records, and I think because of that farm management contest, he loves to crunch numbers,” said Wes. “It’s his operation, and he can talk costs per acre or breakeven price or he understands the sugar industry – on a global level – not just marketing it to Renville.”

He was also president of the local FFA chapter, and attended the State Conference for Chapter Leaders presented by the Minnesota FFA officers.

After graduating from high school in 2014, he applied for and received his Minnesota FFA Degree, and then it was on to University of Minnesota Crookston to study Ag Systems Management. Joe earned a bachelor’s degree in three years graduating with high honors in the spring of 2017.

He’d planned to apply for his FFA American Farmer Degree in 2015, but FFA leadership saw the strength of his application and suggested he wait one more year and apply for the Star Farmer.

This May, Joe learned he was selected as the Minnesota Star Farmer applicant advancing to nationals, and then in July, he learned he was one of the top four in the nation, before receiving the American Star Farmer award.

“This is a once-in-probably lifetime thing for a career, as far as an ag teacher goes,” said Wes.

Farming practices

Joe loves to talk about farming.

“While other people have hobbies they think about, this is what I think about for fun, as my hobby,” he said, with a laugh.

He grew his first crops in 2013. What really surprised his FFA instructor was when Joe asked permission as a high school junior to leave class so he could sell several thousand bushels of corn.

“What that tells me is Mom and Dad didn’t hand him this project,” said Wes. “They gave him opportunities to rent the land, but they also gave him responsibilities. What a learning experience for Joe to have that responsibility as a junior and work his way up to where he is today.”

Joe has farmed fulltime for five years.

“I had just been helping out on the farm, so that first year I grew the crop, it was a little bit more of an investment – when you put the money down to pay for your inputs and grow your own crop too,” he said.

Joe purchased shares in the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative while in college, and has made more farming management decisions as well.

The Arnolds have a philosophy that they want to maximize the dollars they make per acre. They’ll take more risk and a much larger workload per acre, if they can increase their dollars of income per acre.

Joe minimizes his soybean acres because it’s hard to make as much money per acre as he wants, on their farmland.

Because they raise sugarbeets and edible beans, the Arnolds follow a longer rotation to reduce disease and insect pressure. They raise sugarbeets, edible beans, corn, and then soybeans; or they raise sugarbeets, corn, dry edible beans, corn and sugarbeets again.

“We know what this field is going to be planted into one, two, three, four, five years from now,” he said. “We have a pretty good idea of what that’s going to be, or at least leaving it open to having certain crops.”

The longer crop rotation also keeps rootworms out of the cornfields too, Joe said. It saves money as they don’t have to purchase corn rootworm protection in traited seed.

The Arnolds’ farming methods rely on proactive management from start to finish. They have found a great benefit from getting waste lime from the sugarbeet factory to spread on their fields. This improves soil structure, adds nutrients like phosphorus and potassium and helps control sugarbeet root diseases.

They also spray fungicide on edible beans and sugarbeets.

“We have to use different chemicals and tank mixes and have two modes of action and spray more often,” Joe said. “During the summer, I’m in the sprayer every day.”

The Arnolds have experienced good success using turkey manure from area barns too. Joe says that using turkey manure costs about the same as using chemical fertilizer, but turkey manure also provides micronutrients.

The Arnolds had raised navy beans when Joe decided he wanted to try dark red kidney beans.

“I had help from a neighbor who had grown them before,” he said. “That was very useful.”

So far, the kidney beans have been profitable, and this year, Joe purchased his first Pickett One Step windrower that cuts the beans and conveys them to the side so that two windrows can be placed together and combined in one pass.

He also purchased his first Pickett combine with edible bean header.

The edible beans are sold locally to ADM and Bonanza Bean.

“I don’t think Dan or Lynette would have jumped into kidney beans at all if it wouldn’t have been for Joe doing the research and crunching the numbers on it,” said Wes. “That is what young people do so well. They are not afraid to take a little bit of a risk, but in the case of Joe, it is very calculated. He’s got it all figured down to the penny.

“That diversification is going to put money in the bank for Joe, so he’ll be around here 20 years from now. He’ll still be farming. He’ll weather the ups and downs of the commodity markets because of his diversification. That’s totally Joe.”

Joe believes there will continue to be opportunities for young farmers in the future. He thinks there could be a correction coming in land prices too. He’s noticed there is an increase in land sales.

“Right now that’s the marginal land, but it’s just like anything else, the market gets frothy and is about ready for a correction,” he said. “A few different things could trigger a price correction in farmland – if interest rates begin to rise or farmers experience low production.

“You just have to set yourself up to not be affected by that correction as much, and maybe turn it into an opportunity,” he said. “Our goal is to make a profit on every acre.”

In the spirit of full disclosure, the writer’s children also had Mr. Wes Anderson as their FFA advisor.

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