The five district winners of the Star Agribusiness award will be presented during the annual convention of the Illinois Association FFA, held at the Prairie Capital Convention Center. Members competing for this prestigious award include (from left) Melanie Bennett, Somonauk Chapter; Alex Dambman, Eastland Chapter; Paul Ninehiser, Triopia Chapter; Colin Cole, Cumberland Chapter; and Matthew Reuss, Marissa Chapter.
The five district winners of the Star Agribusiness award will be presented during the annual convention of the Illinois Association FFA, held at the Prairie Capital Convention Center. Members competing for this prestigious award include (from left) Melanie Bennett, Somonauk Chapter; Alex Dambman, Eastland Chapter; Paul Ninehiser, Triopia Chapter; Colin Cole, Cumberland Chapter; and Matthew Reuss, Marissa Chapter.
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Finalists for the Star in Agribusiness honor will be introduced during the Illinois FFA State Convention at the Prairie Capital Convention Center in Springfield during the Thursday afternoon session.

The top FFA members in the state included the following students:

Alex Dambman

The District 1 Star in Agribusiness started his FFA project by baling hay for a neighbor. During his second year, Alex Dambman baled 946 bales with his custom baling business.

“At this point, I realized that I could make this a successful business and started to market the bales that were produced to other customers in other states,” he said. “I also started setting prices for my bales depending on the type.”

Advised by Cynthia Feltmeyer, Dambman bumped his total number of bales to 1,530 by baling for a farmer who raised several hundred acres of wheat.

Through his project, the son of Curt and Shelly Dambman learned about repairing and maintenance of his round baler and tractor.

The Eastland FFA member plans to enroll at Western Illinois University and major in agribusiness. His career goals include returning home to take over his dad’s farm equipment business.

Melanie Bennett

Somonauk FFA member Melanie Bennett has a beef placement project where she works at a local farm. She also has established her own business with an embroidery machine and graphic print machine.

During the second year of her project, she purchased another machine of each type. The District 2 Star in Agribusiness expanded her business to a shop outside of the home.

“I have added more inventory and a bigger work space for me to fill orders and get them done in a more productive manner,” Bennett said. “I started out relying on the other partner of the business to operate it and have grown to operate and do more than I could have ever imagined.”

The high school senior has become a better leader through her experiences with FFA.

“I was always looking up to the kids that were older than me in the FFA because of their leadership skills,” she said. “Now I have gained that opportunity to be a role model and leader to others.”

Her adviser is Toni Saso.

This fall, Bennett will attend the University of Wisconsin-Platteville to study agriculture education and technology education with a minor in crop and soil science. Her goals include working as an agriculture teacher.

She is the daughter of Todd and Patty Bennett.

Paul Nienhiser

Paul Nienhiser received encouragement from his parents to start a mowing business for his FFA project. His business initially included mowing a cemetery, church and two yards.

“I learned safety practices and techniques to use in later years,” said the District 3 Star in Agribusiness

The Triopia FFA member increased the number of hours for his FFA project.

“I did things from changing oil, sharpening blades, frequent washing and other maintenance to billing customers,” he said.

In addition to leadership qualities, Nienhiser said he learned communication skills and business management from his FFA activities. He is advised by Blaine Hartwick.

Although the son of John and Bev Nienhiser has not selected a college at this time, he plans to continue his education after high school and pursue a career in agriculture.

Colin Cole

The District 4 Star in Agribusiness started a bait business in 2003, and his sales have increased steadily from year to year. After an article was printed in a local newspaper, Colin Cole’s business and sales skyrocketed.

“Sales improved so much that I couldn’t keep up with demand,” the Cumberland FFA member said.

Advised by Charles Sappington, Cole tried a new product by adding anise oil, which makes the bait smell like licorice.

“I am still doing product testing, and results are looking good to try and market,” he said.

“I can not measure the knowledge I have gained in the past years,” Cole said. “I plan on continuing with the FFA by getting a section office so that I can continue to gain knowledge and meet new people.”

Cole plans to study at Lake Land College and enter the Ag Power program. He also is interested in learning how to do taxidermy.

His parents are Daniel and Lisa Cole.

Matthew Reuss

Marissa FFA member Matthew Reuss is involved in a turfgrass management FFA project. The District 5 Star in Agribusiness mows lawns for several individuals as well as a church.

In addition, he does weed trimming, sprays weeds and cleans the yards of leaves in the fall.

This FFA project taught the star finalist organizational skills.

“It is my job to make sure every lawn is taken care of,” Reuss said. “I have to keep track of my spending and income, which is important to do regularly.”

One of Reuss’ favorite aspects of being an FFA member is talking to new people.

“The FFA has helped me become a more outgoing person,” said Reuss, who is advised by Kim Portz.

After high school, Reuss plans to attend an university and study chemistry.

“With this degree, I hope to find a job in agriculture developing chemicals for crops,” said the son of Brian and Laurie Reuss.