Ryan and Marie Hilton of Jasper County and Jacob and Jill Smoker of LaPorte County are the winners of two of Indiana Farm Bureau’s top awards for Young Farmers & Ag Professionals – the Excellence in Agriculture Award and the Achievement Award.
Two panels of judges evaluated this year’s participants. Excellence in Agriculture candidates were judged on their involvement in agriculture, leadership ability, as well as their involvement and participation in Farm Bureau and other organizations. The Achievement Award candidates were judged on their leadership abilities and what they have achieved with their farms.
- Ryan and Marie Hilton, Jasper County, won the Excellence in Agriculture Award, which honors Farm Bureau members who do not derive the majority of their income from an owned, production agriculture operation, but who actively contribute and grow their involvement in Farm Bureau and agriculture. The Hiltons will receive a John Deere Gator (courtesy of Farm Credit Services), a $3,000 cash prize from Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance and an all-expenses paid trip to Atlanta, Georgia to compete at the American Farm Bureau annual convention in January, pending COVID-19 restrictions.
- Jacob and Jill Smoker, LaPorte County, won the Achievement Award, which recognizes INFB members who earn the majority of their income from production agriculture and measures applicants on their leadership involvement and farm management techniques. The Smokers will receive a $6,000 cash prize from Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance, 250 hours free use of an M-Series tractor (courtesy of Kubota Tractor), as well as an all-expenses paid trip to compete at the American Farm Bureau annual convention in Atlanta, Georgia in January, pending COVID-19 restrictions. The winners also will be awarded the David L. Leising Memorial Award.
Ryan and Marie Hilton, Jasper County
The Hiltons have been around agriculture their whole lives. Marie grew up on her family’s seed corn farm, and Ryan grew up helping friends work on their family farms. Ryan works for Belstra Milling Company, a feed mill and transport company that deals primarily with hogs. He has worked at the company for 15 years on the maintenance crew, delivering feed to farms, and currently as the livestock transport driver and logistics coordinator. He wears many hats and is responsible for all communication in preparation for hogs to be picked up and delivered across the country. Marie holds a bachelor’s degree in education. For over six years, she has provided daycare for friends and neighbors in the farming community, as well as taking care of the Hiltons’ own children. Marie recently accepted a teaching position at Covenant Christian High School teaching ag science.
“In the next five years, we have dreams of starting our own livestock transport business,” said Marie. “We want to be able to help keep the food chain link unbroken.”
Ryan and Marie are members of the Jasper County Farm Bureau board. They both served as YF&AP State Committee representatives from 2017 to 2019.
“The best thing about being on the committee was making those connections and being able to advocate for those who may not have a voice of their own, or who may not have the time to go out and advocate for themselves,” said Ryan. “Farm Bureau and the state committee have provided us with tools and resources to be that voice of agriculture.”
Learn more about the Hiltons here.
Jacob and Jill Smoker, LaPorte County
The Smokers’ family farm consists of a row crop and cattle operation. Jacob manages the day-to-day tasks at Smoker Farms, including crop contracting and overseeing feed truck deliveries, and medical crews. Along with the support of Jake’s father, Jill also helps out by scouting, picking up parts and running equipment. Jill has a full-time job as an art teacher at Chesterton High School, teaching digital design, drawing and jewelry.
Jacob and Jill are heavily involved with Farm Bureau. Jacob is the current vice president of his county board, and both Jacob and Jill served as YF&AP State Committee representatives from 2017 to 2019, with Jacob serving as chair of the committee in 2019.
“We are so grateful we had that opportunity,” said Jill. “Some of my favorite memories were from the time spent getting to know the greater ag community and connecting with them about the highs and lows that you can face on the farm.”
Jacob and Jill met as high schoolers in 4-H and both attended Purdue University where Jacob earned his bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics and horticultural production & marketing. Jill received her bachelor’s degree in visual art education and earned a master’s degree in education. The Smokers now have two young children.
“When I think about the future of the farm, I think about starting to transition from myself to my son and my daughter,” said Jacob. “It’s about growing the farm in a sustainable way and making sure they are set up to succeed when they are ready to take over the operation.”
Learn more about the Smokers here.