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MADISON – The rainy forecast couldn't dim the stars inside the Alliant Energy Center Wednesday night during the 90th Wisconsin FFA Convention. Of the 328 FFA members who earned the State FFA Degree, finalists for the Stars Over Wisconsin awards were simply the best of the best.

The finalists competed for three of the most prestigious awards presented at the state level which includes Wisconsin Star Farmer, Star in Agricultural Placement and Star in Agribusiness. Here are this year's winners and runners-up.

Wisconsin Star Farmer

Despite the odds against smaller farms in the challenging farm economy, Collin Wille is optimistic about he future. The Rice Lake FFA Chapter member was selected as the Wisconsin Star Farmer.

The award recognizes students who have expanded their knowledge and own/operate an agricultural related enterprise where they have mastered skills in production, finance and ownership management.

Wille's passion for Registered Holstein cows was ignited at the age of 9 when he was given his first Registered Holstein cow. The bovine gave the young boy the inspiration to start building his herd and planning for his future in dairy.

"Even in these tough times in agriculture, I feel as if I battled through and just really persevered and built up what I think has become a pretty special project for myself," Wille said.

Along with adding animals to his small herd, Wille is interested in the genetics of the herd, from the breeding to evaluating matings and pouring over sire summaries. 

In order to breed cows for strong healthy calves and increase production, Wille pays special attention to the importance of nutrition in both pre-fresh and post-fresh animals. The DHIA test records also helps him to document milk production on each cow and track their progress throughout their lactation.

As he has grown, he has taken on more responsibilities on his family farm and continues to grow his own herd. He currently attends Northeast Iowa Community College for Dairy Science and hopes to return home to become the fourth generation to run the family farm.

"If I'm fortunate enough to someday return home, I'd like to expand what I've already started—modernizing the farm and adding buildings," he said. "Every day is going to have its challenges, but the reward will be worth it in the end."

Top finishers in the category include: runner-up, Hailey Hendrickson, Randolph Cambria-Friesland; Brooke Welke, Osseo-Fairchild (3); Kevin Kitchen, Augusta (4); Jacquelyn Rosenbush, Spooner (5).

Other finalists include: Brooke Cooper, Campbellsport; Ashley Carns, Darlington;

Lindsey Augustine, Ellsworth; Noah Heine, Jefferson; Seth Cupery, Randolph Cambria-Friesland.

Agribusiness

Zachary Wiegel of Shullsburg FFA Chapter was named the Wisconsin Star in Agribusiness. This award recognizes students who have taken an active role in owning and operating their own business.

Wiegel's knack for lawn care started when his father taught him to use the push mower at age 12. As he got older, he began caring for the family's lawn and soon his attention to detail was noticed by neighbors who clamored for his services. Soon, Wiegel's business took off throughout town.

As his business continues to grow, he has honed his skills as well and added to his fleet of machinery and tools. 

To get professional experience, Wiegel sought employment with Green Escapes Lawn Care LLC when he wasn't tending to his own customers. This initiative has allowed him to build a college fund for himself that he will use to attend UW Madison for agricultural business this fall.

Katrina Pokorny of the Waupun Area FFA was runner-up.

Agricultural Placement

Starting with a calf when he was 12, Jeremy Schlies' passion for Holstein cattle has grown over the years. Today, Schlies continues to work side by side with his dad at their Brown County farm.

Schlies, a member of the Denmark FFA Chapter, was selected as the 2019 Wisconsin Star in Agricultural Placement. This award recognizes students who have logged numerous hours at an agricultural related business.

While Schlies earliest tasks on the farm involved feeding calves and sweep alleyways, he now takes an active part in daily tasks and decision-making. 

As the primary milker on the family's dairy operation, he milks the family's herd twice a day and ensures that best practices are being followed to maintain animal health and quality milk.

In addition to feeding and milking the cows, Schlies is also instrumental in scheduling, training and guiding employees on the farm. After graduating from the UW Madison Farm and Industry Short Course, Schlies hopes use this knowledge back on the home farm.

Runners up in the category include: Abbygail Hayes, Columbus, 2; Kyle Propson, Denmark (3); Katelynn Loehrke, Weyauwega-Fremont (4) and Lucas Miller, Randolph Cambria-Friesland (5).

Other finalists include: Miranda Kraus, Montello; Zach Sievert, Pulaski; Jeremy Hoekstra, Randolph Cambria-Friesland; Samuel Leinweber, Ripon; and Kathleen Yanke, Sauk Prairie.

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