Sweet Deal – Brett Petersen earns FFA American Star

Sweet Deal – Brett Petersen earns FFA American Star

November 25, 2016 6:30 am


Brett Petersen, Murdock, checks his phone before heading out to complete fieldwork at Petersen Farms Inc.
Brett Petersen, Murdock, checks his phone before heading out to complete fieldwork at Petersen Farms Inc.

MURDOCK, Minn. – A sugarbeet farmer from the Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg (KMS) School District has earned one of the top awards from the National FFA Organization – the American Star.

Brett Petersen, 21, recently returned from the National FFA Convention where he received the American Star in Agricultural Placement.

The American Star Awards represent the best among thousands of American FFA Degree recipients.

Each state FFA association recommends four American Star Award candidates – one for each of four award areas.

The National FFA Organization selects four finalists per award area, who are contacted in August. Following review of their materials and a 20-minute interview at the National FFA Convention, four winners are selected each year.

Other winners include: Tyler Schnaithman, Garber, Okla., American Star Farmer; Shane Mueller, Garretson, S.D., Agribusiness; and Elizabeth Renner, Crooks, S.D., Agriscience.

Each award has slightly different criteria. The Ag Placement American Star recognizes the member with the best placement Supervised Ag Experience (SAE) and proven leadership skills. The member’s placement experience may include paid labor hours or unpaid labor hours.

Brett was hired by his family’s farming operation, Petersen Farms Inc., when he was in the sixth grade. Starting by sweeping floors and putting away tools, he quickly proved able to handle more responsibilities.

By ninth grade, he became the primary operator of the farm’s sugarbeet conveyor. He also learned about preventative maintenance as well as how to repair equipment.

By 11th and 12th grade, he was handling all jobs associated with sugarbeet production and had also invested in his own shares in the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative.

Since high school, Brett has earned his pilot’s license to investigate crops from above. He also attended Ridgewater Community College for Farm Operations and Management, and is currently studying Ag Business.

“I decided to study both so that I’ve got options,” he said.

He attributes much of his success to FFA.

“I started in FFA in seventh grade,” he said. “My ag teacher, Christa Williamson, was very progressive in getting younger kids involved.

“Christa stays very involved and pushes the students to be their best. She is very dedicated to her job and the students, and seeing their success,” he added.

Brett served as an FFA officer with the Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg chapter from ninth through 12th grade, and served on the regional officer team too.

“I’ve been very active throughout my whole FFA career doing Career Development Events, helping with service projects. You name it, I was probably at it during high school,” he said. “I was in baseball in the spring, but FFA always came first for me.”

Beginning his Supervised Ag Experience in seventh grade, Petersen kept detailed proficiency records that helped him document his employment for nine years.

His parents, Kyle and Paula Petersen, have helped him develop goals as an employee and farmer-owner.

“They gave me a great opportunity to prove myself,” he said.

Petersen hopes to farm with his brother, Hunter, and their cousin, Cody, 25.

“We all have our responsibilities we take care of,” he said. “It works out good. We all get along very well – especially Hunter, Cody and I work very well together.”

They grow corn, soybeans, sweet corn, canning peas and sugarbeets.

“I take care of the specialty crops, and my cousin takes care of the corn and soybeans,” he said. “My brother fits in where we need him.”

By speaking to people from other parts of the U.S., Brett learned that – outside of Minnesota and North Dakota – few farmers are familiar with sugarbeets.

He appreciates the way that sugarbeet growers have adopted cover crops to keep the beet seed and soil in place in the spring.

Sugarbeet growers also work to remain on the leading edge of herbicide and fungicide management.

The root crop is raised on farmland no sooner than every third to fifth year, and the sugarbeet tops are tilled under to add organic matter to the soil.

“We want to not hurt the environment, because that is what we live on, and we’re trying to do the best we can,” he said.

Brett sees the issue of consumer fear of GMOs as the largest concern for the sugarbeet industry.

“If we lose GMO seed, it will cost so much to grow a sugarbeet crop,” he said. “I got involved when glyphosate was available, and I’ve never been part of the industry before that. From the stories I hear, we don’t want to go back there.”

It’s very important to talk with consumers about the need for cost effective ways to grow sugarbeets and other crops, he added.

“We’re trying to feed more people all the time,” he said. “We’re trying to get it across that it’s not as bad as they think it is.”

Next summer, Brett will have an opportunity to learn more about agriculture and people’s perspectives when he travels to Ireland.

The trip abroad was given to all of the American Star finalists, plus the National Ag Proficiency winners. Last year, he traveled to Costa Rica with FFA, so he’s definitely found rewards from his involvement and work over the years in his FFA career.

“I encourage youth to join FFA and stay active,” he said. “You don’t have to be just from the farm. It’s a great group.”

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