SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Years of working on FFA projects resulted in four FFA members selected as Star winners during 95th annual Illinois Association FFA State Convention.
During the Stars Over Illinois presentation, the prestigious awards were presented to Cole Paulek, Star Farmer; Sidney Stiers, Star in Agribusiness; Nevin Erbsen, Star in Agricultural Placement; and Megan Baker, Star in Agriscience.
“It feels amazing to know my hard work over four years through the struggles and triumphs all paid off in the end,” said Cole Paulek, a member of the Taylorville Chapter.
The son of Craig and Katie Paulek started his cattle project with Angus cows.
“I’ve moved into Chianina and other breeds and I raise market and breeding cattle,” the Star Farmer said.
Paulek has a Boer goat and a swine project.
“I purchase pigs at 20 to 30 pounds, raise them to market weight and sell them as freezer pork,” he said. “I also raise 40 acres of corn and 40 acres of soybeans on land that I cash rent.”
Competing for the Star Farmer award has been a goal for Paulek, who is advised by Sue Schafer, Lori Parks and Charley Dammerman.
“My freshman year there were two seniors in our chapter that had been very successful and they both ran for Star,” Paulek said. “They were good mentors so I worked hard on my record books for four years to get to this point.”
This fall, Paulek will attend Butler Community College in Kansas to compete as a member of the livestock team and study animal science before completing his bachelor’s degree in animal nutrition.
Star In Agribusiness
Sidney Stiers started baking in 2018, when she was 12 years old.
“I’ve sold more than 12,600 baked goods including cakes, cupcakes and cookies through my bakery business, The Bakery Bin,” the Star in Agribusiness said.
The daughter of Jeff and Joanie Stiers has a long line of bakers in her family.
“My great-grandma loves cooking, my grandmas do and my mom does, so I’ve grown up eating a lot of home-cooked meals,” the Williamsfield FFA member said. “My mom has taught me some skills and I’ve inherited recipes through the generations.”
Stiers uses her great-grandmother’s frosting recipe as her classic frosting recipe.
“I had a lot of inspiration from them,” she said. “In 4-H, I took a beginner cake-decorating course and learned some more skills.”
Advised by Kent Rigg, Stiers has a second business, Sidney’s Sunflowers, that she started in 2020 and has sold over 1,100 sunflowers.
“I grow, cut, arrange and sell sunflowers that are pollenless,” she said.
Watching the videos of the other Star finalists on stage, Stiers said, the five FFA members had very different projects.
“To be named a Star is a really big honor,” she said. “This is an unreal feeling.”
Stiers will be a high school senior this fall and she really enjoys working with plants.
“Horticulture and agronomy are some of my passions,” she said. “From my sunflowers I’ve learned a lot more about the industry and that’s been really eye-opening.”
Star In Agricultural Placement
Nevin Erbsen started his record books when he was in eighth grade and now he has five FFA projects.
“My ag teacher said when I was a freshman that I was going to apply for Star in Agricultural Placement in my senior year,” the Eastland FFA member said.
“It’s a weird feeling because I didn’t expect it since I thought the other kids in my category had more interesting record books,” said Erbsen, who is advised by Cindy Feltmeyer. “In the end, hard work pays off — I have over 2,200 hours in my record books.”
For his two dairy books, Erbsen works for his family farm, Erbacres Holsteins, and at Gunderson Dairy Farms, where the cows are milked by robots.
“For my home dairy farm, we exhibit cattle at local and national cattle shows,” said the son of Carl and Becky Erbsen.
“I also have a grain book for my home farm and two forage books,” the Star in Agricultural Placement said. “I do all the work — mow, bale, wrap and pack silage piles from 280 acres of hay and at home I make hay and corn silage”
Erbsen will be attending Iowa State University to major in ag technology and possibly minor in animal sciences.
Star In Agriscience
For her agriscience project, Megan Baker planted a buffer strip on a crop field that has about a 30% slope.
“The farmer said his seed was washing out of the ground so he wasn’t getting any yield from the field,” she said. “The purpose of my project is to see if buffer strips have an effect on major hypoxic zones or nitrification.”
The goal of Baker’s project is to negate these problems.
“Algae blooms happen in the Gulf of Mexico or any large body of water because of excess nutrients which causes fish kills,” the Neoga FFA member said. “It ruins not only the aquaculture industry, but also recreational activities.”
Along with her adviser, Cody Carman, Baker also received assistance from her biology teacher.
“She’s big in environmental science and we also found a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for projects like this,” said the daughter of Andy and Christine Baker.
Baker plans to continue doing agriscience projects this fall during her high school senior year.
“I started a new project in plant systems on different types of starters,” she said. “They have a lot of microorganisms in them so I want to see what these starters can do.”
Initially, the Star in Agriscience did not have a goal to compete for the state honor.
“But last year at state convention, I saw Lizzy Schafer win the state Star, and I since I was getting my state degree, I thought I should try to do that,” she said. “I can’t even believe it.”