INDIANAPOLIS — At first glance, Cole Ketterling seems like a typical American farmer. He raises beef cows for his supervised agricultural experience (SAE) with Wishek FFA in North Dakota. He grows corn, soybeans, spring wheat and sunflowers on a rotation. But his time with FFA has taught him a unique, valuable skill: welding.
“I learned how to weld in the classroom and did a few competitions that involved that,” Ketterling said. “I actually weld a lot on the farm now because of it.”
Ketterling said he mostly puts his welding skills to repair broken equipment, but he also uses it for building fencing and other useful structures.
“It’s stuff you don’t think you would use every day — and you don’t use it every day — but once in a while, it comes in handy,” he said.
Ketterling’s beef cattle SAE got its start when he was just a kid backgrounding his father’s cows to make them ready for placement in a packed feedlot. From there, he bought his own cows and began renting land for raising cattle and crops. Ketterling said he started with 39 acres and currently farms on “about 1,000 acres” in 2020.
FFA taught Ketterling about more than just welding and farming, though. He said he also learned a lot about business management in his agriculture classes. He credited his father, Kermit Ketterling, and his FFA advisor, Rocky Brown, for inspiring him to try new things.
“It was a good foundation to get me going in the right direction,” Ketterling said.
Ketterling recently graduated from North Dakota State University with a degree in ag economics, and he has started working as an ag loan officer in his hometown. He is still farming, though, and he said he has two paths to choose from for his future.
“For now, this is where I’m starting,” Ketterling said. “I’m getting a little off-the-farm income to help start farming [more] because, economically, it’s not the best time to be farming full time right out of college.”
For FFA members working on their SAEs, Ketterling said his best advice is to try new things and accept failure as it comes along.
“Don’t be afraid to fail,” Ketterling said. “Try something. If it doesn’t work, you’re young; you can walk away and try something different.”
About the American Star Awards
Each year at the National FFA Convention & Expo, four FFA members are honored with American Star Awards for outstanding accomplishments in FFA and agricultural education.
The American Star Awards, including American Star Farmer, American Star in Agribusiness, American Star in Agricultural Placement and American Star in Agriscience, are presented to FFA members who demonstrate outstanding agricultural skills and competencies through completion of an SAE. A required activity in FFA, an SAE allows students to learn by doing, by either owning or operating an agricultural business, working or serving an internship at an agriculture-based business, or conducting an agriculture-based scientific experiment and reporting results.
Other requirements to achieve the award include demonstrating top management skills; completing key agricultural education, scholastic and leadership requirements; and earning an American FFA Degree, the organization’s highest level of student accomplishment.
Sixteen American Star Award finalists from throughout the U.S. were nominated by a panel of judges who then interviewed the finalists this fall. Four were named winners during the 93rd National FFA Convention & Expo this year, which was held virtually. Winners received cash awards. Case IH, Elanco Animal Health and Syngenta sponsor the awards.
The National FFA Organization is a school-based national youth leadership development organization of more than 760,000 student members as part of 8,700 local FFA chapters in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
— National FFA Organization
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