Rachel Hyde of Hamilton County, Chelsea O’Brien of Spencer County and Mark and Jessica Wenning of Henry County are the winners of Indiana Farm Bureau’s top awards for Young Farmers & Ag Professionals — the Rising Star, the Excellence in Agriculture and the Achievement awards.
All three awards recognize young farmers and ag professionals in terms of leadership and involvement with their state or local Farm Bureau, in addition to their commitment to strengthening agriculture across Indiana. Two panels of judges evaluated this year’s participants.
Rachel Hyde, Hamilton County, won the Rising Star Award – a new award for 2023. The Rising Star Award honors outstanding members who are active in Farm Bureau, their county, their community, Collegiate Farm Bureau and/or YF&AP programs, as well as display personal and professional growth by participating in those activities. Hyde will receive a $2,000 cash prize and an all-expenses paid trip to Omaha, Nebraska for the 2024 American Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers Conference in March.
Chelsea O’Brien, Spencer County, won the Excellence in Agriculture Award, which honors Farm Bureau members who do not derive the majority of their income from a farming operation, but who actively contribute and grow their involvement in Farm Bureau, the agriculture industry and other community organizations. O’Brien will receive an $11,000 cash prize and an all-expenses paid trip to Salt Lake City, Utah to compete at the 2024 American Farm Bureau convention in January.
Mark and Jessica Wenning, Henry County, won the Achievement Award, which recognizes INFB members who earn the majority of their income from a farming operation and measures applicants on their leadership involvement and farm management techniques. The Wennings will receive an $11,000 cash prize and an all-expenses paid trip to compete at the 2024 American Farm Bureau convention in Salt Lake City, Utah in January. The Wennings also will be awarded the David L. Leising Memorial Award.
Winners and finalists will be formally recognized during the INFB state convention in December. Learn more about this year’s winners below.
Rachel Hyde, Hamilton County
Rachel Hyde has a passion for advocating for agriculture. She is the seventh generation to help grow corn and soybeans on her family farm, as well as help support her uncle’s sheep operation.
“From the time I wake up until I go to sleep, there is rarely a moment that does not involve agriculture,” said Hyde.
Hyde graduated from Purdue University with a degree in agricultural communication and a minor in agronomy. She now works at Beck’s Hybrids as a field sales marketing coordinator where she serves as a liaison between the field sales team and the marketing department. She encourages, equips and educates the field sales team and dealers about marketing tools and tactics.
Hyde serves as the public relations coordinator for the Hamilton County Farm Bureau board. She is a member of the local FFA Boosters leadership team and an avid 4-H volunteer on the county level, while also judging sheep and goat shows across Indiana and neighboring states.
Hyde won the 2022 Indiana Farm Bureau YF&AP Discussion Meet, a competition where contestants participate in a group discussion that simulates a committee meeting and solves issues that are currently impacting agriculture. Hyde advanced to the national Young Farmer & Rancher Discussion Meet held during the 2023 AFBF Annual Convention, where she placed in the top four of the competition.
In the next five years, Hyde hopes to build out the field sales marketing department and develop her leadership skills at Beck’s Hybrids. She also aims to continue to develop her equipment skills on the operation, including setting up the fields for planting, running the combine and grain cart during harvest and training others on the farm.
“Winning this inaugural Rising Star Award means a ton to me personally,” added Hyde. “My family has always encouraged me to use my voice and share my agriculture story with others, and this is a great outlet to do just that.”
Chelsea O’Brien, Spencer County
Chelsea O’Brien’s love of agriculture started at a young age on her grandfather’s dairy farm in southern Indiana. It is there that she learned the meaning of hard work, caring for animals and the basics of farming. O’Brien attended Purdue University, graduating with a degree in agricultural communication. She got her start in Farm Bureau with the Purdue collegiate chapter where she won the INFB Collegiate Discussion Meet.
“It wasn’t until going to college and starting my career that I learned just how fortunate I was to have grown up around agriculture and how it has helped me become the person I am proud to be today,” said O’Brien.
After working in marketing both inside and outside of the ag industry, O’Brien returned to agriculture in 2021 as the marketing communications manager at Superior Ag cooperative. In this role, she communicates the products and services offered by the cooperative, as well as shares the brand story with customers and the community.
Besides her involvement in 4-H, the National Agri-Marketing Association and her local church, O’Brien also serves as the Spencer County Farm Bureau YF&AP chair, where she helps promote agriculture and Farm Bureau to young members of the ag industry in the local area.
As the chair, she spearheaded a food donation to a local food pantry to reduce hunger and benefit the community. The committee also organized a “Springtime on the Farm” event around 2022 Ag Day where local elementary schools had the opportunity to learn about a variety of ag topics, including how corn and soybeans are grown, animal education, farm safety and conservation.
The Spencer County YF&AP program was recognized with the 2023 Outstanding County Young Farmers & Ag Professionals Award given to the top program in the state.
O’Brien plans to continue to participate in future INFB YF&AP Discussion Meets and would like to attend a trip to Washington, D.C. on behalf of Farm Bureau to showcase her passion for communicating the importance of agriculture to legislators.
“I wanted to apply for the Excellence in Ag award to share my story and show the young professionals in the industry some of the unique opportunities that you can have in this career outside of production agriculture,” O’Brien added.
Mark and Jessica Wenning, Henry County
The Wennings both have a background in agriculture. Mark was raised on a corn and soybean farm. He studied agricultural systems management and agricultural economics at Purdue University. Jessica grew up on a dairy farm in Ohio. She graduated from Ball State University with a degree in accounting, finance and economics.
Now on their own operation, they raise corn and soybeans, as well as plant cover crops and install drainage tile. Mark works full-time on the farm and is responsible for all input purchases, crop planning, marketing and other day-to-day responsibilities. Jessica works off the farm as a CPA for Ernst and Young. She also helps on the farm during planting and harvest seasons, including making sure cover crops are planted in the fall.
“Everything we farm is no-tilled with cover crops grown through the winter months,” explained Mark. “We use variable rate technology for fertilizer and seeding operations in order to be as efficient as possible with our resources. We place great value on creating a sustainable family farm, and we have focused on building our family farm prudently and always with a long-term vision.”
The Wennings are previous YF&AP state committee representatives, with Mark serving as vice chair and Jessica as secretary last year. Now they are the chairs of the Henry County YF&AP committee to try to inspire young farmers in the community to get involved in Farm Bureau. The Wennings also volunteer with 4-H and FFA.
The couple’s goal is to continue to develop their leadership skills, as well as purchase additional land, increase crop yield and grow profits on the farm. Their biggest goal is to eventually pass on the farm to their kids to keep for future generations.
“Farming is definitely a way of life for us,” said Jessica. “The farming operation creates profitability and allows us to live our lives, but the farm is also about teaching our children where our food comes from and feeding America.”