February 08, 2023

Star awards honor top Illinois FFA members

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — FFA members with projects that include managing crops, raising pigs, goats, rabbits and puppies, as well as experiments with cattle were honored during the Stars over Illinois event held on the second day of the 94th Illinois FFA State Convention.

The prestigious awards presented to the top members in the state were Star Farmer Braydon DeCounter, Star in Agribusiness Katie Wagner, Star in Agriscience Lizzie Schafer and Star in Agricultural Placement Loren Pribble.

Star Farmer

“I’m still speechless and shocked,” said Braydon DeCounter. “Since I just finished my junior year in high school I was the underdog going into this, so I’m blessed.”

The West Prairie FFA member has several projects including a herd of 13 Boer goat females and one buck. He exhibits his goats at local and county shows.

“I also buy pigs from local producers and then feed and prepare them to show,” he said.

His advisers are Sam DeCounter and Corinne Biswell.

For his rabbit project, the son of Sam and Heather DeCounter raises California and New Zealand rabbits.

“I show them at local, county, state and American Rabbit Breed Association shows,” he said. “The ones that don’t meet my breed criteria are sold for human consumption.”

After graduating from high school, DeCounter plans to attend Lincoln Land Community College with the goal of participating on the livestock judging team.

“I will transfer to a university and I’m looking at Iowa State University to get a degree in animal nutrition with a minor in education,” he said.

Star In Agribusiness

Katie Wagner started her Centennial Farm Labrador business before she was a high school student. She raises and sells Labrador retrievers and currently she has five female and two male dogs.

“Honestly, I was a little shocked when I heard my name,” said Wagner, who is advised by Aaron Heartt, Brandon Livingston and Hannah Libby.

Wagner sells her puppies through word of mouth and a website.

“I also have a Facebook page and that is where I get most of my business,” the Mercer County FFA member said. “I sell from 12 to 24 puppies each year depending on which dogs have puppies.”

The daughter of Scott and Julie Wagner will be studying psychology with a possible minor in elementary education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

“I got interested in psychology from my dual credit psychology professor who was a clinical psychologist before becoming a professor,” she said. “I really want to help people and I’ve always loved kids.”

Star In Agriscience

Lizzie Schafer completed three bovine research projects.

“My freshman year this opportunity came because my employers told me they really wanted to figure out if CIDRs improved conception rates,” she said. “I used two different types of synchronization methods for recipient cows and I proved using CIDRs had higher conception rates.”

For her second project, the Taylorville FFA member compared Grade 1 and Grade 2 embryos.

“Grade 2 embryos resulted in higher female progeny,” said Schafer, who is advised by Sue Schafer, Katie King and Lori Parks.

“My last project compared Grade 1, 2 and 3 embryos to see if Grade 3 embryos were a viable tool to freshly implant into recipients,” Schafer said. “Grade 1 and 2 embryos can be frozen in nitrogen, but Grade 3s cannot be frozen and I proved Grade 3 embryos are a viable tool because they result in a high amount of conception rates.”

The daughter of Aaron and Sue Schafer will attend Butler Community College in Kansas to study agricultural communications with a career goal of becoming an ag broadcaster.

Star In Agricultural Placement

“This feels pretty good because a lot of hard work has paid off,” said Loren Pribble about becoming the star winner. “I didn’t really know what to expect walking in here, I am very shocked.”

Pribble farmed with his grandfather for many years.

“He used to have 700 acres so I’ve been farming ever since I was big enough to walk,” the Goreville FFA member said.

Now Pribble raises 95 acres of corn, 61 acres of soybeans and he bales 300 round bales of hay.

“My FFA books were done on two operations, one owned by my grandmother and the other one is owned by my father,” said the son of Jeremiah and Dana Pribble. “This was my first year to completely take the farm over.”

This fall, Pribble will attend Shawnee Community College and he plans to transfer to Southern Illinois University to complete an ag business and economics degree.

“After college I plan to farm full time,” said Pribble, who is advised by Jeff Robison.

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor