HOLDREGE — Grady Johnson was still in a car seat when he began riding with his dad in the tractor.
Grady’s passion for agriculture began early and continued to grow throughout his youth as he began working on his family’s farm, 37 Ag.
Grady, 21, began his own businesses through the family operation that he incorporated into his FFA supervised agricultural experience.
Through his work on his SAE, Grady was named one of four finalists for FFA’s American Star Farmer award, which is awarded to the FFA member who demonstrates the top production agriculture SAE in the nation. The member must demonstrate outstanding achievement, active FFA participation and an exemplary scholastic record.
According to a press release, the American Star Awards represent the best of the best among thousands of American FFA Degree recipients. The award recognizes FFA members who have developed outstanding agricultural skills and competencies by completing a supervised agricultural experience program.
A required activity in FFA, an SAE allows members to learn by doing. Members can own and operate an agricultural business, intern at an agricultural business or conduct an agriculture-based scientific experiment and report the results.
Grady is a 2018 graduate from Holdrege Public Schools, and he served as the 2018-29 Nebraska FFA state secretary. He is studying agriculture economics at University Nebraska-Lincoln.
While still in high school, Grady began a sheep operation, fattening up feeder lambs and raising ewes to have lambs.
“It was something we had never done before and it interested me. I could do a lot of it myself. It was meeting a bunch of new people. I met sheep buyers from all over the place and people that helped me and just learning a whole new industry and how the lamb markets worked,” Grady said.
Grady continued to find ways to grow his family’s operation. He began a custom cornstalk baling operation in order to remove some of the residue from the field after harvesting corn each year.
“There is a lot of residue when you grow especially 250-plus bushel corn. I wanted a way to get rid of some of the residue so the strip tiller can get in easier. You get better emergence out of the corn the next year,” Grady explained. “So not only did this solve our residue problem, but it kind of made a different bale on the market.”
Grady often would spend weekends buying lambs at sale barns throughout Nebraska, and he was very involved in Holdrege’s FFA chapter.
“He was very motivated not only in this and his SAE, but he served as a state FFA officer in 2018 and 2019, which is a huge time commitment,” said Jeff Moore, the Holdrege agriculture education teacher. “He was very active in getting our members involved and not afraid to take charge and lead with ideas.”
Grady will interview with a panel of judges in September for the American Star Farmer award, and a winner will be announced at the 94th National FFA Convention and Expo Oct. 27-30 in Indianapolis. If selected, Grady will be the second person in his family to be named an American Star Farmer.
His dad, Blake, won the award in 1991.
“Farming runs deep in our family. (Grady) will be the fifth generation. We like to be on the forefront of trying new things and take pride in what we do. He has embraced that to help and do what he has wanted to do,” Blake said. Grady has begun leasing his own farm ground in the area, and he hopes to continue to expand 37 AG and take over one day.
“It’s something I really like to do. I come here every day, and it doesn’t feel like work,” he said. “It’s cool to know that my operation that I have worked hard for stacks up on a national level. That is rewarding.”