Last year, Trenton Bemis won the National Proficiency Award in Fruit Production at the National FFA Convention. On Saturday (Nov. 1), the Wisconsin cranberry grower topped that honor when he received one of the four top awards an FFA member can earn. Bemis, a member of the Lincoln-ACHM (Alma Center-Humbird-Merrillan) FFA Chapter, was named the American Star in Agricultural Placement.
The Star in Agricultural Placement is the highest award given to an FFA member who is employed in an agricultural business. Other Star awards are given in the areas of production agriculture, agriscience and owning an agricultural business.
The National FFA Convention took place here from Oct. 30-Nov. 2, with over 56,000 FFA members in attendance.
Bemis, 22, is the son of Mike and Deb Bemis of Humbird in Clark County. Rich Larson was his FFA advisor during his high-school years, and Steve Boe is his current FFA advisor.
Bemis grew up on Humbird's Edlen Cranberries, which is owned by Diane Kirkman and Sandy Johnston, both of Wisconsin Rapids.
The Bemis family has a long history of working on the farm. Bemis' grandfather, Harlan Bemis, and father both have spent their entire working lifetimes at Edlen Cranberries, including as the farm managers, and his late great-grandfather, Mike Bemis, also worked on the farm. Like most farm kids, Bemis grew into his responsibilities on the farm, and he hopes to continue growing cranberries on the farm until he retires.
The farm consists of 700 acres - most of it woods, water and marsh - and it has 75 acres of cranberries. Most of the cranberries are picked, surface-dried and packaged for fresh use for Ocean Spray. A couple of cranberry beds go to make cranberry juice.
In all, the farm processes about one million pounds of cranberries a year. Wisconsin is the nation's largest cranberry grower, producing more than half of the nation's cranberries, and cranberries are the state's fruit crop in both acreage and value.
Like many farm kids, Bemis's early role on the farm included cutting grass, sweeping the shop and washing equipment. He gradually learned production skills, including planting, irrigation, harvesting and packaging, as well as operating all the farm's equipment. Since graduating from high school, he's continued to hone his skills, including repairing and maintaining equipment.
Bemis is learning something new this year. Edlen Cranberries is in the process of replacing an old dam structure, and Bemis is overseeing the project, enabling him to develop a new skill set. He assisted with removal of the old structure and is currently meeting with contractors, and he will see the project through to completion.
"It's a different experience than the work day-to-day," he says of the dam project.
"I like the uniqueness of the business," Bemis says of growing cranberries. "It's always changing. The new technology (the industry) is coming up with is incredible."
For example, cranberries used to be hand sorted, and now Edlen Cranberries uses ultraviolet and laser technology to do most of the sorting.
Bemis started to get involved in FFA activities as a high-school sophomore, and he participated in fundraisers, leadership workshops, state FFA conventions and the FFA chapter's Food for America program. Food for America teaches local fourth graders about production agriculture.
In addition to participating in FFA activities, Bemis said involvement in his school's vocational-agriculture classes and FFA allowed him to learn about other types of production agriculture and agricultural businesses.
"It's made me more aware of what farming touches and has to do with," he says of those experiences. "It's made me more aware of all the fields and the opportunities for jobs that have to do with agriculture. Agriculture is more than farming and cows. . .
"By going on farm tours and factory tours, I'm more aware of what technology is out there, things that you take for granted and how things get from the field to the factory to the store," he adds. "I've always been aware of how we do it here (at Edlen Cranberries), but to go out and see other places. . . FFA enabled me to get away from the normal here and see other places."
National proficiency awards
Two Wisconsin FFA members captured National Proficiency Awards at the National FFA Convention.
Aaron Zimmerman, 19, won the National Proficiency Award in Ag Communications, and Camber Sannes, 19, received the National Proficiency Award in Equine Science - Entrepreneurship. A total of 18 Wisconsin FFA members went to the National FFA Convention as one of four finalists for National Proficiency Awards in the areas of their Supervised Agricultural Experiences (SAEs).
Zimmerman, the son of Mark and Cheryl Zimmerman, Spencer, is a 2012 graduate of Spencer High School and a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, where he is majoring in animal science, with a meat-animal emphasis. Mark Zimmerman is his FFA advisor.
As part of his SAE, Zimmerman redesigned the Spencer FFA Chapter's website in seventh grade and served as its webmaster. That led to producing videos of the chapter's FFA banquet and activities and doing graphic design of posters and other promotional materials for FFA events.
While he was interested in graphic design as a way to promote his family's cattle business and FFA chapter, people started asking if he could develop logos for their farms and designing livestock promotional materials.
He launched a business, AMZ Video and Graphics, and he also works under the name of X-treme Livestock Graphics. He has done design work for the Wisconsin Livestock Breeders Association, Wisconsin Junior Simmental Association and American Junior Simmental Association.
Zimmerman plans to pursue a career in beef-cattle production, genetics and embryology. A former Wisconsin FFA state officer, Zimmerman was one of four finalists for the American Star in Agribusiness at this year's National FFA Convention, plus he was a national FFA officer candidate.
Sannes, the daughter of John Mosey and Mary Sannes of Amherst, graduated in 2012 from Amherst High School, where Tim Pederson is her Amherst FFA Chapter advisor. She is a sophomore in the pre-med program at UW-Madison, majoring in biology.
Sannes started taking riding lessons when she was eight years old and started jumping lessons the following year. She has worked mainly with three trainers since then, but has learned from hundreds of trainers - including a U.S. Olympics coach and Olympic riders - through a variety of clinics. She competes in three-day eventing in eight Upper Midwestern states.
Every weekend from April-September and twice a month from October-March, she participates in dressage, cross-country and show jumping competitions.
As Sannes grew up, she purchased more and better horses- - primarily Thoroughbreds - so she could advance in her level of competition. As a sophomore in high school, she bought and trained a young American Paint horse, advancing through to the state competition.
Two years ago, Sannes and her mother bought two ponies, and Sannes gives lessons to five kids who range in age from four-six. She also is a member of the collegiate riding team at UW-Madison, competing in shows about four times as semester as part of the team.
One of Sannes' goals is to qualify for the American Eventing Championships in Georgia within the next two years and to win a national championship.
Career Development contests
Three FFA teams - from Arcadia, Seymour and Badger FFA Chapters - captured top-10 spots in the Career Development Events contest.
The Arcadia FFA team placed fifth nationally in the Ag Technology and Mechanical Systems contest. Team members Damian Wolfe, Jake Pronschinske, Mitchell Sendelbach and Nick Schank all received gold ratings, and Wolfe placed seventh individually in the national contest.
In the Dairy Cattle Evaluation contest, the Seymour FFA team - made up of Bethany Marcks, Cody Moeller, Kayla Moeller, and Brittany Vanden Heuvel - placed eighth nationally. Cody Moeller placed 10th individually in the contest, and Marcks, Cody Moeller and Kayla Moeller all received gold ratings.
In the Veterinary Science contest, the Badger FFA team placed eighth nationally. Individually, team members Rebecca Kamps, Taylor Kundert and Chandler Carlson received gold ratings, and Kundert was the fourth-place individual in the contest. Team member Miranda Hall received a silver rating.
In Agricultural Sales, Cody Carlin of Portage FFA received an individual gold ranking, and his team received a silver rating. Michael Murphy of Osceola FFA received an individual gold rating in the Agronomy contest, and his team received a silver rating, and in the Food Science and Technology contest, Geena Whalen of Arcadia FFA received an individual gold emblem, and her team received a silver ranking.
Following are the ratings for other Wisconsin teams competing in the national Career Development Events contests: Ag Communications - Cochrane-Fountain City FFA, bronze; Ag Issues - Mosinee FFA, bronze (individual ratings were not provided for the Ag Issues contest); Environmental Sciences/Natural Resources - Waterford FFA, bronze; Farm business Management - Kickapoo FFA, silver; Floriculture - Oshkosh West FFA, silver; Food Science and Technology - Arcadia FFA, silver; Forestry - DC Everest FFA, bronze; Horse Evaluation - Fort Atkinson, silver; Livestock Evaluation - Amery FFA, silver; Meat Evaluation - River Ridge FFA, bronze; Milk Quality and Products - Hillsboro FFA, bronze; Nursery/Landscape - Oshkosh West FFA, bronze; Parliamentary Procedures - Amery FFA, bronze; and Poultry - Brillion FFA, silver.
In individual events, Alli Magnin of Oconto Falls FFA received a bronze emblem in the Creed Speaking contest. Jordan Siemers of Howards Grove FFA received a silver emblem in the Dairy Cattle Handlers contest. Sydney Endres of Lodi FFA received a silver emblem in Extemporaneous Speaking, and Eric Coddington of Montello FFA received a silver rating in the Job Interview contest. Jennifer Rynes of Brookwood FFA received a bronze emblem in the Prepared Speaking contest.
None of the Wisconsin FFA members won their divisions in the National Agriscience Fair, and individual rankings were not provided as of press time.
National FFA Alumni Convention
At the National FFA Alumni Association Convention, which was held in Louisville concurrently with the National FFA Convention, Jim Check of Milton was elected to serve a three-year term as the Alumni Association's central district vice president. Check, who first got involved as FFA Alumni member when his children joined FFA, has served as president of both the Milton FFA Alumni Association and, in 2012, the Wisconsin FFA Alumni Association.
The National FFA Alumni Association presented its Outstanding Achievement Award to three individuals, including James Grasee of Wisconsin. Recipients are those who volunteer their time and talents to encourage people at the local, state and national levels to get involved with FFA alumni efforts and activities.
Grasee has volunteered for years to gain awareness and support for FFA throughout Wisconsin. He served two terms on the Denmark FFA Alumni board and led efforts to build a greenhouse on school grounds for its ag education program. He has coordinated the chapterâ€™s annual food drive and chaperoned FFA members to various community events. He served as an executive finance committee member for the Wisconsin FFA Alumni Association and has attended numerous state FFA sectional meetings and conventions.