2018 Young Farmer Award winners are passionate about life on the farm

Jonathan Spaetti and Derika Lynam-Spaetti of Spencer County and Neal and Lydia Wolheter of LaGrange County are the 2018 winners of two of Indiana Farm Bureau’s top awards for young farmers, the Excellence in Agriculture Award and the Achievement Award.

Two panels of judges evaluated this year’s participants. Excellence in Agriculture candidates were judged on their involvement in agriculture, leadership ability, and involvement and participation in Farm Bureau and other organizations, while Achievement Award candidates were judged on their leadership abilities and on what they have achieved with their farms.

The INFB Young Farmer Excellence in Agriculture Award recognizes young farmers who do not derive the majority of their income from an owned production-agricultural operation. For winning this award, the Spaettis will receive a John Deere Gator (courtesy of Farm Credit Services), a $3,000 cash prize (courtesy of Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance) and an all-expenses-paid trip to compete in the national contest at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual convention.

The INFB Young Farmer Achievement Award recognizes young farmers who earn the majority of their income from their farms. The Wolheters will receive a $6,000 cash prize (courtesy of Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance), 250 hours of free use of one M-Series tractor (courtesy of Kubota Tractor Corporation) and an all-expenses-paid trip to compete at the AFBF annual convention. The winners also will receive the David L. Leising Memorial Award.

The state winners were announced on Aug. 31 via INFB’s Facebook page. Winners and runners-up will be formally recognized at the INFB state convention in December. 

The INFB awards are conducted as a part of the AFBF Young Farmers and Ranchers Award competition. The Spaettis and the Wolheters will represent Indiana in the Young Farmers and Ranchers Achievement and Excellence in Agriculture competitions at the AFBF annual convention in January in New Orleans, competing against young farmers and ranchers from across the country.

Jonathan Spaetti and Derika Lynam-Spaetti

Jonathan and Derika were born into farming. Having grown up on family farms, they developed their passion for agriculture at a young age.

Jonathan, a fourth-generation farmer, holds an associate degree in manufacturing industrial technology, works alongside his dad and uncle on the farm and owns his own farming operation. Derika, who holds a master’s degree in teacher leadership, is a high school math teacher. The couple raises food-grade white corn and soybeans.

The Spaettis are active members of several agriculture organizations, including INFB, where they’ve served as members of many committees, including the State Young Farmer Committee, and on their county Farm Bureau board.

“With all the lack of agricultural education, I think Farm Bureau and other ag organizations are very vital and important to helping educate our consumers to understand the importance of farms,” explained Derika.

As county Farm Bureau board members, the Spaettis help plan Spencer County Farm Bureau’s annual Springtime on the Farm event, where they educate residents of the county, including youth, about agriculture.

“I get a chance to work more on the adult side, to help educate adults on problems agriculture is facing and help bridge that consumer disconnect,” Derika explained.

The Spaettis have also participated in several INFB public policy-related opportunities.

“With Farm Bureau we’ve had the opportunity to visit the Statehouse and  Washington, D.C., to learn how our legislative process works and also how our elected officials impact us as farmers,” said Jonathan.

Derika also serves on the Indiana Soybean Alliance board of directors.


Neal and Lydia Wolheter

Having both grown up on family farms, the Wolheters’ agricultural roots run deep. Lydia and Neal both hold bachelor’s degrees – Neal’s in ag systems management and Lydia’s in selling and sales management.

Neal manages the family farm operation full time and raises corn, soybeans, wheat and ryegrass. Lydia manages the farm’s accounting and production records and works part time as an independent closer for local title companies. Neal and Lydia have three children, Reese, Breanna and Parker, who they say are involved on the farm as much as possible.

“The most rewarding part of farming is harvest time when you get to reap the benefits of a year’s hard work,” explained Neal. “During harvest, you work together as a team more.”

The Wolheters devote many hours to the county and state Farm Bureau, serving on several committees, actively participating in the Young Farmer program and attending local, state and national events. 

“Relationship-building is key in every industry, but especially in agriculture because it is such a small, close-knit community,” said Lydia. “Farm Bureau gives you an opportunity to meet farmers from across the country and across the world.”

The Wolheters said that educating people on what agriculture is and how it affects them is one of the biggest barriers they see for the industry, but they remain positive about the future of farming.

“The future looks bright for farming. There are a lot of opportunities in farming, whether you’re directly in production agriculture or something that feeds into farming,” said Lydia.

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