Sustainable farming, scholarship winners part of Ag Breakfast


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The guest speaker during this year’s annual Jackson County Chamber of Commerce Ag Breakfast spoke about sustainable farming, climate change and the impact on area farmers.

“We believe farmers are in a position to make impactful change when it comes to protecting the environment and protecting our food supply,” said Amanda Bahn-Ziegler, account manager for Truterra LLC.

Bahn-Ziegler grew up on a small dairy farm in central Wisconsin and now lives near her husband’s family farm in north central Ohio.

“Truterra is the only farmer-owned ag sustainability program in the United States,” Bahn-Ziegler said. “We are really proud to be owned by farmers because it means that everything we do is driven with the mindset of how do we keep our farmers protected for the future.”

She said climate change is a hot topic right now, and there are a lot of changes coming and a lot of funding coming to help farmers be a part of the solution.

“United States agriculture is only about 9% of the total greenhouse gas emissions, so we’re not the biggest piece of the pie in the climate issue,” Bahn-Ziegler said. “But there is a big opportunity to be one of the leaders of climate change.”

One of the reasons there’s such a focus on agriculture is because we can make the fastest change because a farmer can choose to farm differently tomorrow, she said.

With transportation, it’s not like a switch can be flipped overnight. There aren’t enough electric cars, and the technology’s not there yet.

“If all ag land went to sustainable farming practices, we could only make a 4% improvement on greenhouse gas emissions,” Bahn-Ziegler said. “So we can’t be the whole solution, but we can be a part of it quickly, and we can be the first ones to change.”

Before Bahn-Ziegler spoke, Richard Beckort introduced this year’s Dick Moren Agribusiness Scholarship winners to the nearly 80 attendees.

“It’s my pleasure to have this part of the program every year because it indicates the future of agriculture here in Jackson County with our young people,” said Beckort, a member of the chamber’s agribusiness committee.

The agribusiness committee always uses some of the sponsorship money to give scholarships to future college students who are planning to study agriculture.

As part of that scholarship process, students are asked to write a 1,000-word essay. This year’s topic was “How sustainability practices impacted agriculture in the last 50 years,” which Beckort said is timely.

The $1,000 scholarship winner was Kourtney Otte, a 2021 graduate of Seymour High School, and the $500 scholarship winner was Macey Stuckwisch, a 2021 Brownstown Central High School graduate.

Otte is the daughter of William and Angie Mousa, and her future plans are to attend college for ag education.

When introducing Otte, Beckort said she’s going to take a year off first since she recently was elected to serve as the 2021-22 state president of Indiana FFA and will be involved in a lot of activities.

Reading her essay, Otte said when agriculture is the topic of conversation, she thinks of the summers spent on her grandparents’ farm and chasing the sun in a beat-up golf cart.

“I think of the FFA and 4-H events that strengthen my passion for agriculture. I think of my roots,” she said. “For many, agriculture is the past, present and future.”

What has allowed this industry to continue to become the future? Sustainability, Otte said.

She said crop rotation and diversity, cover crops and decreased tilling and integrated pest management play a critical role in that sustainability effort.

By alternating the planting of corn and soybeans, farmers are able to cut back on the amount of nitrogen needed when planting corn because soybeans are able to take nitrogen from the air and place it in the soil.

“By continuing the incredible research and practices, the fears surrounding the future of agriculture will be a worry of the past,” Otte said.

She said winning the $1,000 scholarship was very exciting, and she looks forward to putting it toward college.

“I’ve had a bit of a career change, and instead of teaching ag education, I’m going to go for ag law, policy and things like that,” she said. “Still majoring in ag ed, though, so I can have an impact on that system and have the background knowledge on the industry.”

Stuckwisch is the daughter of Keith and Misty Stuckwisch and plans to attend Ivy Tech Community College in Columbus to earn a degree in agricultural management, and then she will transfer to Trine University to finish her bachelor’s degree. She said she would like to work in the agriculture field helping farmers with the business side.

In her essay, she said sustainable agriculture is a method that does not deplete the soil, water, air, wildlife or human community resources.

“This method of agriculture was introduced in the 1950s and 1960s at the same time that the Green Revolution was exporting modern high-technology agriculture around the world,” Stuckwisch said.

Sustainable agriculture describes a method of farming that practices responsible management of the land.

“This is in a way that does not deplete natural resources,” she said. “We are living in an age where environmental issues are on the rise, and farmers, like others, have to keep these issues in mind.”

Stuckwisch said these issues are on the rise due to overpopulation, increased waste production and depletion of natural resources.

“These are all issues because we are not replenishing the land with the nutrients it needs to continue growing the most desirable yield,” she said. “However, with farmers growing sustainably in the past 50 years, a positive impact has been made.”

During that time, most farms have been passed down to the farmer’s children, which means many more farms have slowly evolved into practicing sustainably, she said.

Stuckwisch said the $500 scholarship will help immensely and every little bit counts, and every scholarship, no matter the size, will add up.

“I was very surprised and excited when I found out I got the scholarship,” she said. “I knew a lot of people who were applying, so I thought it would be a difficult choice for the selection committee.”

Her passion for agriculture stems from her childhood, but she truly found her passion through FFA in high school.

“I enjoy teaching people about the subject and further helping educate the public about agriculture and all that it truly means for our community,” Stuckwisch said.

She said her ultimate career goal is to make a decent living for herself while benefiting her community.

The breakfast was held at the Seymour Ag-Science and Research Farm at Freeman Field Industrial Park.

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