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Salem student nominated for highest FFA honor

Adam Eichacker, National finalist for the FFA Star Award at the Eichacker Family Farm in Salem. (Courtesty)1 / 2
From the left to the right, Terry Rieckman, McCook Central teacher and FAA adviser, Adam Eichacker, Tracy Chase, assistant FAA adviser, in Salem discussing the next steps before the national competition in Indianapolis in October. (Sheila Slater / Republic)2 / 2

SALEM — With both feet firmly on the ground, Adam Eichacker keeps reaching for the stars. The 21-year-old senior at South Dakota State University in Brookings is one step closer to his dream of returning to the family farm in Salem and becoming a full-time farmer.

But first, he has his eyes on the National American Farmer Star award, considered the highest recognition in the nation for an aspiring young farmer.

Eichacker skipped the Future Farmers of America (FFA) state competition this year and went straight to the nationals to compete for the highest honor given by this organization. In 2015, Eichacker won two FFA State Star awards. The first one for Star Farmer and the second one in the Star Agribusiness category, which made him the first student ever to receive two awards in the same year.

This year, more than 4,200 members across the country will be receiving their American FFA Degree, the organization's highest level of student accomplishment, at the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis in October. Out of 2,600 applicants, 16 finalists were chosen based on their performance in the program.

The award recognizes members who have developed outstanding agricultural skill sets and competence through the completion of a supervised agricultural experience (SAE) program. Four finalists, including Eichacker, will be competing for the 2018 American Star Farmer Award. They are Dylan Finken, of the Max FFA Chapter in North Dakota; Austin Stanton, of the Centralia FFA Chapter in Missouri; and Laura Stobb of the Milaca FFA Chapter in Minnesota.

"It's kind of the more sought-after award in terms of being one of the more pristine awards—and strictly on a national level—compared to the one I received a few years ago. That one was just statebound," Eichacker said. "If you're not a finalist, you pretty much don't get anything."

The prize money for making it to the finals is $2,000 and another $2,000 for the winner of the national FFA Star award.

The interest in farming and the science surrounding it was sparked for Eichacker in seventh grade when he attended his first exploratory agriculture class at McCook Central School District.

"I had an older relative, my cousin Matt, who was a nominee for the same award I am going for now. I really looked up to him as a mentor and remember I mentioned that to Terry Rieckman, our McCook Central teacher and FFA adviser," Eichacker said.

Rieckman as well as Terry Chase, FFA co-adviser, took Eichacker under their wings, mentoring him and feeding his passion.

While still in high school, Eichacker farmed crop land, raised market hogs and cattle. These will be some of the projects on which Eichacker will be judged for by the Star Farmer award.

"I will go through the interview process all afternoon and hopefully win the award there. But that's kind of the end of the road in terms of the FFA," Eichacker said.

Once he returns to Salem around Christmas, he will get busy on the third-generation family farm business "Eichacker Simmentals," a third-generation operation lead by his parents Steve and Cathy.

Eichacker's advice to other young students interested in exploring the field is, "If you are looking to build an SAE in the ag industry right now, be persistent with what you are doing and that will be the best.

"There are going to be days when it's 100 degrees out and you are working cattle. You ask yourself, 'Why in the heck am I doing this?' Then there will be days when you are kicking out nice pairs in the pasture, watching them run and it's a little satisfying," Eichacker said.

He wants the younger generation of farm kids who are interested in getting involved with the FFA agriculture program to know that it is a people business.

"If you can go home at the end of the day and say, 'I am being an example to myself, of a trustworthy, honorable businessman and partner,' that goes a long way," Eichacker said.