Missouri Agriculture Awards Program
Honoring Missouri's Greatest Agriculturalists
For centuries, Missouri farmers have been providing our nation with food, fuel and fiber and have assumed the responsibility of investing their lives to provide for others while also giving back to this state’s economy. Many have gone to great lengths to advance agriculture.
The Missouri Department of Agriculture would like to commend each and every farmer for their hard work and dedication to the industry. Through the Missouri Agriculture Awards, we would like to recognize those that stand out for their commitment to innovation, giving back to their communities, committing to good land stewardship and being a great example for future generations.
Award winners are selected annually by a committee of representatives. For guidance, the judges consider innovative farming techniques, examples of commitment to land stewardship, community engagement and leadership.
Nominations can be submitted by any organization, group or individual on behalf of a Missouri farmer.
2016 Award Winners
Dean Tom Payne of Columbia
Tom Payne has served as Vice Chancellor and Dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR) since January 1999. Under his leadership, the college’s research programs have grown with the recruitment of world-class faculty members and an increase in private funds raised in support of the College. Payne brought the efforts of MU Extension and the MU Research Centers closer together, leading to the formation of the CAFNR Office of Research and Extension. He has built strong connections with the college of Engineering and School of Medicine. Those efforts lead to jointly affiliated units for bioengineering and biochemistry between the schools. The Bond Life Sciences Center was built during his tenure and opened in 2004. Before stepping into the administrative side of academia, Payne was internationally known for his work as an entomologist.
Anson Elliott of Springfield
Dr. Anson Elliott recently retired as director of Missouri State University’s Darr School of Agriculture. He joined the university in January 1978 as a member of the teaching faculty. For more than 30 years, he served as the top administrator in agriculture, but always considered himself a teacher, mentor and team leader. Dr. Elliott taught at least three classes per year as well as coordinated numerous individualized studies and internships.
Dr. Elliott has tirelessly contributed to and facilitated student and faculty participation in public affairs engagement. In a response to active recruitment of outstanding high school seniors, Dr. Elliott began a leadership course for incoming freshmen where the course's mantra is “Leadership is not royalty, it is making a difference!” As a result, many of those students have become agricultural ambassadors, which led to countless leadership and civic engagement activities on campus, and beyond. He also initiated the Collegiate Farm Bureau Club, which is associated with the largest farm organization in Missouri, as a way for students to be immersed in state and national public policy issues. He was a key leader in successful efforts to modify the U.S. Farm Bill and to obtain funds for which non-land grant universities (like MSU) could qualify for the improvement of education.
His international travels to France, India, China, Taiwan, South Korea and Russia on food issues have been key to instilling in students how interconnected we really are.
Missouri Agriculture Education Leader
Darrin Peters of Fenton
Darrin Peters didn’t grow up on a farm and he didn’t study agriculture in school. A native of Fenton, Mo., he now teaches chemistry at Rockwood Summit High School. Darrin has also become an outstanding advocate for agriculture. Each day, he connects the lives of hundreds of urban and suburban young people to production and value-added agriculture.
As a high school chemistry teacher, Darrin Peters’ message extends beyond the periodic table. He uses biodiesel to connect students to where their food and fuel comes from, how it’s made and the ways in which they might use those science and technology skills in the future. His students don’t have an agriculture education program or FFA chapter, but with his leadership they’ve formed an afterschool club and sought grants to expand their biodiesel projects beyond the classroom.
The outstanding growth in both curiosity and understanding among students at Rockwood Summit High School got another boost in 2015, as the chemistry classes and club entered production agriculture. Building on the success of the program that started with waste vegetable oil from the cafeteria, Darrin led his students to work with Missouri farmers, including longtime leader Warren Stemme, to plant soybeans on the school grounds. The students then crushed their beans to explore another step in the process of converting the oil into biodiesel – which can then be used in school vehicles. In 2016, Darrin has expanded the student’s crop space and worked to bring a small-scale soybean crusher into the school to help his students further understand the connection between row crops, the agriculture industry and their daily lives. Darrin has taken his chemistry classes from the school’s laboratory to the real world, and in that process he’s overcome the challenge of connecting urban and suburban young people with production agriculture in a meaningful dialogue.
Missouri Agricultural Environmental Steward
John Hunter of Essex
John Hunter is a leader in environmental stewardship at every level. He is a national-level advocate for sustainability and teaches his fellow producers about environmentally-friendly practices at the regional level. He also leads by example, implementing cover crops, reduced tillage practices, rotation and diversification on his farmland. Hunter is a conservation-minded farmer, continually assessing his operation, his practices and making improvements that seek a practical balance between increasing profitability and increasing sustainability, which will preserve his land for future generations.
On his southeastern Missouri farm, Hunter prioritizes soil health and diversification. He currently produces field corn, popcorn, rice, soybeans, cotton and pumpkins near Dexter. His recent expansion included the purchase of Black Angus cattle. Within his operation, Hunter has implemented many techniques based upon his research and personal goals for soil health.
Hunter is a founding member and past-president of the Delta Soil Health Alliance, an advocate for soil health and sustainability improvements on the Missouri Soybean Association board of directors and previously on the Cotton Producers of Missouri board. He has also been featured as a leader on cover crops by the United Soybean Board and served as a spokesperson on sustainability efforts during the 2016 Ag Media Summit.
Missouri Agriculture Communicator
Mindy Ward of Marthasville
Mindy Ward of Marthasville, Mo., is editor of Missouri Ruralist magazine. She is responsible for managing freelance writers, editing, slotting or arranging articles in a magazine and updating social media along with writing her stories. After graduating in 1991 with a degree in science and agricultural journalism from the University of Missouri, Mindy worked for Fleishman-Hillard as an assistant account executive in Kansas City before moving to Minnesota as a newlywed. Once in Minnesota, she accepted a job at Swift County Monitor News where she covered stories on sugar beets, peas and large dairies. Ten years later, Ward moved back to Missouri and freelanced for a year for publications including Beef Magazine, Living the Country Life and Missouri Ruralist. Mindy has two daughters, one of whom is attending the University of Missouri.
Missouri Farm Innovation
Gary Porter of Mercer
Gary is a third generation farmer whose family operation consists of corn, soybeans and wheat. Alongside his wife, Lori, Gary also raises cattle and three sons. For more than 40 years, Gary has grown the farm through hard work and innovative practices with a sharp eye on conservation. Cover crops, GPS mapping and prescription fertilizer applications are central practices in their operation. To improve yield results, Porter plants and tracks large test plots of corn and soybean varieties to determine the best performing traits for their farm. The Porter family is consistently recognized in the National Corn Growers Association Corn Yield Contest.
Acknowledging the benefits of a natural gas line running near his property, Porter installed a unique dryer system in 2010. Paired with a pneumatic grain transfer and automated bin manager system, the setup allows for efficient, effective harvest and grain storage. This allows the farm to perform at peak precision and showcases Porter’s willingness to incorporate the latest technology.
Beyond the farm, Porter demonstrates leadership and innovation in his hometown. When the local fueling station went out of business, Gary and Lori saw an opportunity to invest in their rural community and provide consumers with new options. They opened Hometown Fuels in 2012, servicing drivers in Mercer and the surrounding area. In addition to the standard gasoline and diesel offerings, the station offers biodiesel and ethanol blends, allowing drivers to support agriculture and renewable fuels in north central Missouri.
Gary has served on both the Missouri Corn Growers Association and Missouri Corn Merchandising Council board of directors and the U.S. Grains Council Advisory Team. He has represented the industry on one of Gov. Nixon’s trade missions to Europe, defended the Renewable Fuel Standard and served as a spokesperson for Missouri Farmers Care’s “Stepping Up to the Plate” campaign.
Missouri Food Animal Veterinarian
Dr. Larry Letner of Harris
Dr. Larry Letner graduated from Iowa State University School of Veterinary Medicine and established North Missouri Large Animal Clinic in Harris, Mo. He is a large animal veterinarian, specializing in equine medicine. His methods and understanding of animal health and behavior is unsurpassed; clients travel for miles to seek his expertise and healing touch. No matter the conditions or time of day or night, Dr. Letner answers when a client calls and stays until the job is done. Furthermore, his methods work. He puts hours of thought into treatment protocol, thinks about the different growing seasons and how it effects animal performance and strives to "build a better beast.”
Dr. Letner’s wife, Kristy, manages the office and together they are a team built on customer service. A cattle farmer and horse trainer himself, he understands the livestock business. He works diligently to inform his clients about current issues in agriculture, develops total herd health protocols and dedicates time and effort to youth programs.
Dr. Letner worked with pharmaceutical companies to develop products that are effective and affordable, developed his own mineral that directly addresses the deficiencies of Northern Missouri’s soil and introduced new methods for horses on fescue to improve milking ability and foal survival rates.
International Exporter of the Year
Martin Rice Company of Bernie
Martin Rice Company produces long grain and jasmine rice on its Southeast Missouri farm. The company has dedicated thousands of acres to growing rice and operates its own processing facility at the same location.
This family operation began more than 50 years ago when the Martins settled on 160 acres in the Missouri bootheel and, with their four children, cleared the land using mules. Now, three generations later, the same family farms over 7,000 acres of prime rice-growing land. In January 2000, the family constructed a rice processing facility to add value to a crop grown on the farm for over 25 years. With a dedication to quality, the Martins produce rice under the strictest of guidelines offered by the USDA and the EPA.
Rice, homegrown and milled by Martin Rice Company, is shipped worldwide and is available in various sizes for both wholesale and retail sales so that customers can buy rice by the pound or by the truck full, direct from the farm.
In fact, earlier in 2016, Martin Rice Company donated 20 tons of high quality, long grain rice to Cuba, the first shipment of rice into Cuba since 2008. Martin Rice owners David, Mike and Tim Martin, were members of the Missouri trade delegation in May, and Gov. Nixon distributed small bags of milled Martin Rice to Cuban attendees at an entrepreneurial forum that commemorated the rice shipment.
Missouri Agriculture Volunteer
Garry Mathes and Andrea Jackson of Kirksville
Garry Mathes and Andrea (Andy) Jackson exemplify the meaning of community betterment, community improvement, education and volunteerism. Garry and Andy each have enjoyed a lifetime of involvement in Missouri agriculture. They have each managed diversified livestock and row crop operations while raising and working alongside their respective families.
Garry has a long track record of service to the agriculture industry having served on a multitude of boards, councils and advisory committees while also finding time to support youth as a past 4-H leader and livestock fair superintendent. However, most notably, Garry is the founding member and chairman of the Missouri Livestock Symposium (MLS). Garry has worked tirelessly for the last 17 years as chairman of the MLS.
Throughout his life, Garry has benefited from and been witness to the value of producer education programs. Along with retired livestock specialist Bruce Lane, Garry sought to develop a unique program with the intent of livestock producer education. In 2000, in partnership with University of Missouri Extension in Adair County, Garry realized this goal with the beginnings of what has turned in to an outstanding producer educational program now known as the Missouri Livestock Symposium.
Andy serves as vice-chairman of the MLS. Andy is semi-retired, having created Jackson Country Connection in 2008. The Jackson family enjoys the opportunity to use their agri-tourism enterprise to help families make memories during a traditional visit to the farm, enjoying the bounty of the season and to heightening awareness of the agriculture industry. As vice-chairman, Andy dedicates a great amount of her time to the mission of the MLS. Andy strongly believes in the power of education and the difference it makes in the lives of those who seek it.
The MLS, moving into its 17th year, continues to attract more than 2,000 attendees from 75% of Missouri's counties and several states across the nation. A program of this magnitude needs a strong leadership; Garry and Andy have been a solid foundation and guiding force behind the Missouri Livestock Symposium and its success.
Missouri ASAP Leadership
Rick Aufdenberg of Jackson
Rick and Renee Aufdenberg operate a farm near Jackson, Mo., that has been in the family since the Louisiana Purchase. Rick also works at Baker Implement, a Case IH dealership. The Aufdenbergs have three sons and three grandchildren, and one on the way. He is a member of St. Paul Lutheran Church, was recently recognized as a century 4-H family and volunteers in the community.
Rick’s farm consists of 1,300 acres on which they custom combine, as well as another 250 acres on which they raise corn, soybeans and wheat. They also have a 75-head cow herd utilizing rotational grazing and a 300-head feedlot. They use no till, minimum till, cover crops, grass waterways and filter strips. Also, retention basins are a mainstay on the farms. They use GPS for precision planting and field applications, recycle used motor oil, use crop rotations and biotechnology for fewer chemicals.
Rick considers the Agricultural Stewardship Assurance Program (ASAP) to be an avenue through which agriculture can share its story and promote awareness among the non-agriculture public.
Missouri Agriculture Cattle Legacy
Glen Cope of Aurora
Glen has been remarkable in his dedication and service to the beef industry for many years. He continues to serve several state agriculture organizations and most recently has been serving as the chairman of the Missouri Beef Industry Council where he will be ending his term in October as a result of term limits. Missouri cattle producers demonstrate innovation and resilience each and every day and that rings most true with producers like Glen. The Cope family has dedicated their lives to producing quality beef for dinner tables everywhere.
Glen earned his degree in animal science from Missouri State University before returning to the family farm to partner with his father and brother and manage a 550-head commercial cow/calf herd that spans over two counties. Glen serves on the MFA, Inc. board of directors for district 12 and was a member of the Agricultural Leaders of Tomorrow (ALOT) Class 12.
Glen and his wife, Leanne, have two children, Katie and Orran. Glen has said that one of his most important jobs is to make sure there is opportunity to turn his farm over to the fifth generation, his children.
Missouri Agriculture Corn Legacy
Morris Heitman of Mound City
Morris Heitman began farming in 1969 and has served his local community through various boards and leadership roles. Working alongside his brother, they farm over 700 acres, raising corn and soybeans in Mound City, Mo. Morris also served farmers for over 35 years as a Farm Service Agency county director. In addition, Morris has dedicated many hours to regulatory and environmental development through work on the Corning Levee District.
A strong and steady voice for corn farmers, Morris is completing nine years of service on the Missouri Corn Growers Association and the Missouri Corn Merchandising Council board of directors. For the past year, Morris has served as MCGA president and previously held the title of MCMC chairman. In addition to his statewide efforts, Morris represents corn farmers nationally as a member of the National Corn Growers Association Production and Stewardship Action Team and the U.S. Grains Council Value-Added Advisory Team.
Missouri Agriculture Cotton Legacy
Riley James of New Madrid
Riley James, A.C. Riley Cotton Co., and his family own and manage cotton gins and grain elevators in New Madrid. James, who grows cotton and soybeans, is a great advocate for the Missouri cotton industry. He has served on the board of the Missouri Cotton Growers’ Organization and was president of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association in 2014.
The town historian traces the James’ farming lineage seven generations back. He grew up in the cotton fields and the cotton gin. After graduating from Mississippi State University, Riley returned to the family farm to work alongside his grandfather in the cotton gin. In 2005, he received his MBA from Washington University in St. Louis.
Missouri Agriculture Dairy Legacy
Arlen Schwinke of Morrison
Arlen Schwinke has long been recognized as the “face” of the dairy industry in Missouri. Not only for his longevity milking cows, but also for the many leadership roles he has filled during his active dairy farming days. Arlen has held a wide array of leadership roles from serving on the St. Louis board of Mid America Dairymen to helping organize the Missouri Dairy Association in 1984. Arlen served as the Missouri Dairy Association’s first president and continued to serve as president for 12 years and as a board member until retiring in 2006. At that time, the board named him the one and only “director emeritus” in recognition of his longtime service to the association.
Arlen’s commitment to Missouri agriculture goes beyond the Missouri Dairy Association. He was inducted into the Missouri Institute of Cooperatives Hall of Fame in 2012. His 26 years of leadership on the Missouri Farm Bureau board of directors will never be surpassed since Missouri Farm Bureau now has board member term limits. His leadership roles with the Missouri State Milk Board, Missouri Farm Bureau’s agritourism committee and Missouri Institute of Cooperatives (MIC) board for 38 years (the longest serving MIC board director) demonstrate his commitment to Missouri agriculture.
Missouri Agriculture Forestry Legacy
Leroy McGinnis of Cuba
Leroy McGinnis founded McGinnis Wood Products in Cuba, Mo., in 1968, selling white oak staves. McGinnis Wood Products, Inc. is a family owned cooperage and stave mill that provides innovation, quality products and traditional values of service to each of its customers. Today, Leroy has grown the company into a manufacturer of the finest crafted white oak bourbon barrels in the world. McGinnis Wood Products began building bourbon barrels in 1987 after purchasing barrel-making machinery from Sweeney Cooperage in Vancouver and now has the largest air-dried inventory in the world. The company started with a single building and eight employees in 1968 and has grown to four building, eight dry kilns and 150 employees.
McGinnis Wood Products is known worldwide for its quality white oak bourbon barrels. The barrels are prized both domestically and internationally for the unique flavors they give the spirits and whiskies aged in them.
Leroy has passed down his knowledge and innovation to his two sons and two sons-in-law. Continued perfection in providing the best white oak bourbon barrels on the market is the goal of the McGinnis family. McGinnis is a true family-owned operation, built upon strong, traditional family values, community investment and the value of education. McGinnis supports these values through active community involvement and generous donations to schools in Cuba, Mo., and the surrounding communities.
Missouri Agriculture Pork Legacy
Phil Howerton of Chilhowee
Phil Howerton, a fifth generation farmer, is currently a partner of J.D. Howerton and Sons with his brother, Jim. The operation started with purebred Chester Whites and held their first bred gilt sale on Feb. 5, 1929.
Phil graduated with a degree in animal science from the University of Missouri. After graduation, Phil returned to the farm where he took on even more responsibility. He now oversees and manages a farrow-to-finish operation with about 1,100 sows producing over 28 pigs per sow per year. Phil's son, Nick, is now part of the operation and manages the finishing side.
Beyond his regular farm duties, Phil has served on the Farm Service Administration board, the Missouri Agricultural and Small Business Development Authority advisory board and volunteers at his local church. Phil has been a member of the Henry County Pork Producers and a board member and past-chairman of the Missouri Pork Association (MPA). Currently, he works on the National Pork Board's trade committee, and is the MPA representative for the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
His accomplishments include being named a Pork All-American, Henry County Agriculture Person of the Year, recipient of the Pork Chairman’s award, recipient of a Governor’s Agriculture Achievement Award and recognized as the 1997 Missouri State Fair Farm Family.
Missouri Agriculture Poultry Legacy
Galen Davis of Jasper
Galen Davis has been a leader in Missouri's poultry industry for 30 years. He has applied his education, work ethic, common sense and God's grace to his work with turkey companies, their growers and his fellow employees in way that leaves a trademark of integrity, endurance and success.
Galen graduated from College of the Ozarks in 1986 with a Bachelor’s of Science in agribusiness. For the past 16 years, Galen has played a large role in the production of the 85 million turkeys that have been processed in Carthage. The Carthage division was bought by Butterball, LLC, in 2006 and is now part of the world's largest and best known turkey companies. Working with over 100 growers and a well-directed team of field service staff and managers, the Butterball live operations team (which Galen helps lead as senior area supervisor) has produced the largest turkeys in the U.S. Galen champions feed conversion efficiency, American Humane Society-approved animal care and well-being practices, strict biosecurity and environmental responsibility among growers.
Galen is devoted to his family, his church and his community. He and his wife, Valerie, raised three beautiful and intelligent children and are grandparents to four amazing grandchildren!
The Davis family work with local youth programs, mentor and tutor underprivileged youth, volunteer vacation days on church-sponsored mission trips and are leaders in their local Gideons International camp.
Missouri Agriculture Rice Legacy
Scott Wheeler of Grayridge
Scott Wheeler farms 7,000 acres with his brothers in Stoddard and New Madrid counties and is a fourth generation family farmer. Wheeler Farms grows rice, soybeans and corn. Scott understands the need for educating the public about agriculture and does so at every opportunity he can. He is always available for tours at his farm, ranging from international buyers and legislators to educational and government groups. Scott educates his visitors about modern agriculture practices, showcasing his equipment and cropping methods.
Scott has served in many leadership roles including current board member and past president of the Missouri Rice Research and Merchandising Council and the current vice chairman of the US Rice Producers Association. Scott looks forward to continuing his volunteer efforts to help Missouri Agriculture, especially Missouri rice farming.
Missouri Agriculture Soybean Legacy
Robert Alpers of Prairie Home
Robert Alpers is as an advocate for the soybean industry in Missouri and leads by example on his family farm outside Prairie Home. Alpers grew up on a working farm, learning alongside his father and ultimately taking over the operation along with his brothers. Today, he manages the farm finances and serves as a supervisor and mentor to their employees. He is also teaching and learning alongside his son, Nathan, as they further diversify their farm, and is providing guidance as Nathan, the next generation of the Alpers family, works to buy a portion of the business.
Robert and his family have invested in sustainability on the farm, embracing no-till soybeans years ago, and more recently incorporating no-till practices into their corn production. As a family, they are working to improve disease prevention in their cattle though targeted feeding practices and have introduced the use of cover crops, studying and documenting the results of each type of cover crop.
In addition to his responsibilities on the farm, Robert Alpers is actively engaged in the agriculture industry at the local and state levels, and serves his rural community as a volunteer. He currently represents district five on the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, is president of his local Ag Co-Op board of directors, past-president of the county Farm Bureau board and on the Cooper County Ambulance Board. Alpers is a member of the Missouri Soybean Association, Missouri Cattlemen's Association and other agriculture groups. He is a member of the Boonville Mason Lodge, Prairie Home Lions Club and both a member and a deacon at Prairie Home Baptist Church.
The Missouri Agriculture Awards were presented at the 47th Missouri Governor’s Conference on Agriculture awards banquet on Friday, Dec. 16, 2016 at Tan-Tar-A Resort. Photos from the awards banquet are available on the Missouri Department of Agriculture’s Flickr page.