Best Young Farmers, Ranchers

DTN/Progressive Farmer America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers Announced

Dan Miller
By  Dan Miller , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
DTN/Progressive Farmer named its 10th class of America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers on Tuesday at the DTN 2019 Ag Summit in Chicago. This year's class includes (from left to right) Zoey (Brooks) Nelson, Braden Gibson, Mike Jackson, Brett Arnusch and Russell Schiermeier. (DTN/Progressive Farmer photo by Joel Reichenberger)

CHICAGO (DTN) -- During DTN 2019 Ag Summit in Chicago, the 10th class of America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers was announced Tuesday during a lunchtime awards program.

The program, entering its 11th year, is sponsored by John Deere, DeKalb/Asgrow and FS Growmark, and recognizes farmers and ranchers who are among the best in the United States. The award recognizes honorees for their innovation, imagination and civic outreach.

"We look for farmers and ranchers who are meeting the promise and challenges of 21st century agriculture," said Gregg Hillyer, editor-in-chief of Progressive Farmer, at the 13th annual Summit. "As much as any class before them, we believe this class will take agriculture to the new levels of professionalism required of them as they work to feed a hungry and growing world."

Here's a quick look at each member of the class of 2020 America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers.


Zoey (Brooks) Nelson, 27, of Brooks Farms, in Waupaca, Wisconsin manages a dairy herd expanding to 700 cows. The sixth-generation farmer is Brooks Farms chief operating officer. With a degree in Animal Sciences from the University of Wisconsin, Zoey manages herd health, the milking team, human resource issues and office functions.

"Being a young female in a managing role, I hope to break down stereotypes and misconceptions of what a modern dairy farmer is today," she said. "I think it is important for other young girls to have a female figure in this industry to look up to and to prove that they can do anything they set their minds to."

In her community, Zoey teams with Waupaca High School's work experience program, "Waupaca Works." The program allows students to gain real world work experience while earning classroom credits. She has trained four students in farm and dairy management practices.

Zoey is recently married to Nate, a Waupaca County Sheriff's Department investigator.


Brett Arnusch, 23, of Marc Arnusch Farms, LLC, in Keenesburg, Colorado, was hired by his father's operation as its first data comprehension manager. Marc Arnusch Farms is 3,000 acres of corn for grain and silage, alfalfa, seed wheat and barley, and wheat and barley for the craft brew and spirits industry.

"On our farm we collect millions of data points, but those points are somewhat useless until they come across my screen," Brett said. "I dive into the data each acre on our farm produces to understand the dollars we are spending and earning."

A fourth-generation farmer, who graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in Environmental and Natural Resource Economics, Brett is also building a 300-plus acre alfalfa and forage operation.


Mike Jackson, 36, of Jackson Farms/Jackson Seed Sales in Oskaloosa, Iowa, farms 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans.

Mike is a 6th generation farmer. In addition to row-crop production, he sells seed for Latham Hi-Tech seeds and Iowa Cover Crops.

"My passion and drive," he said, "is to consistently experiment and continuously improve my farm and then to share my results, good or bad, with my fellow farmers. Dad says we've never made any mistakes, but there are many things we won't do again."

Mike has hosted foreign ag teams on his farm and regularly Skypes with elementary school classes, showing them live his farming practices. "It's neat to explain modern pork production and modern farming to students in inner-city Florida."

Mike is chairman of Iowa Farm Bureau's state Young Farmer Advisory committee, along with his wife, Mary Beth.

Mike and Mary Beth have three children: Arianna, Johnathon and Mack.


Braden Gibson, 39, of Gibson Farms, in Dumas, Texas. Mike manages a family operation of 8,000 acres and more than 1,000 cow-calf pairs. Crops include cotton, corn, wheat and grass.

The farm, with operations on both sides of the Texas Panhandle, includes Nature's Way Compost, a business founded by his parents Lee and Paul. Nature's Way supplies compost to crop farmers in Texas and Oklahoma.

"I'm passionate about the industry and the land I am entrusted to work," he said. "I'm always learning new and better ways to better the land and maximize its results, while leaving it better than when I found it."

Braden has completed Master Irrigator classes; The Executive Program for Agricultural Producers (TEPAP) program, Master Marketer Program with Texas A&M, and the AgLead program with the Texas Farm Bureau Federation. He is currently involved in ElevateAg, a peer networking Ag group, serves on the Moore County Farm Bureau Board and Moore County Livestock Association Board.

Braden is married to Audrey. They have two children: Cutler and Kaitlyn.


Russell Schiermeier, 37, of Schiermeier Farms, in Bruneau, Idaho. Russell's operation includes 3,400 acres of corn, wheat, alfalfa and timothy hay.

Trained as a mechanical engineer, Russell is a first-generation farmer who in 10 years took a woefully unproductive farm and converted it into a highly production business with 36 radio-controlled pivots powered in part by eight, 100-kilowatt solar sites.

"We have no official lineage to farming, which is both good and bad," he said. "It has made everything we do a "sweat equity" endeavor. But we have created an efficient operation that pushes the envelope of innovation. Being able to produce more with lower inputs has been the goal. The proof has been seen in the successes we've had."

Russell serves on the hay and forage board for the Idaho Farm Bureau and is honorary commander for the 726th Squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base.

Russell is married to Karli. They have three young girls, Kaye, Sawyer and Elli.

Videos featuring each member of this class of 2020 America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers are found at:…

America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers is already accepting applications for its 11th class, the 2021 America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers. Find applications at

Or, contact program coordinator Dan Miller at 205-414-4736

Dan Miller can be reached at

Follow him on Twitter @DMillerPF


Dan Miller