Nathan Baker inspects the corn crop at his Williams County field near the Ohio-Michigan border as his dog Buck follows.
When the teenagers in Nathan Baker's FFA chapter talk about work on their employers' farms, Nathan talks about his own 77 acres of crops along the Ohio-Michigan line.
In October, when the other teens are in the audience at the National FFA Convention in Louisville, he will be on stage, recognized as one of the top four FFA members in the country in the 450,000-member agricultural youth organization's diversified crops competition.
Nathan, who graduated in June from Waldron High School in a class of 29 students, is the school's first FFA member in at least 25 years to rank in the top four in the country in any FFA contest, his agriculture teacher, Margo Fether, said.
He also is the only northwest Ohio or southeast Michigan FFA member this year to rank in the top four of any of the national FFA's contests.
Nathan, 18, has years of experience entering FFA contests.
He finished well in a crop skills contest, identifying the small visible differences between cucumber beetles, soybean leaf beetles, and corn rootworm beetles.
He didn't do as well in a public speaking contest in which he was to draw an agricultural topic from a hat, prepare for 30 minutes, and present a two to four-minute speech.
He's demonstrated how to make ethanol and debated biotechnology in competition with a group that called its performance "talk show" Agriculturally Incorrect.
Last month, he became secretary of the Michigan FFA, which has nearly 5,000 members.
This is just the beginning of a career he foresees in agriculture. He will enroll in agricultural business classes at Michigan State University this fall.
"That's what I've done all my life, and that's what I like to do," he said.
Nathan has worked with his father, Mark, on his 2,100-acre farm in Williams County in Ohio and Hillsdale County in Michigan for years.
But several years ago he decided to rent land from his father and other landlords and raise his own corn, soybeans, and wheat. He sells straw from the wheat to a buyer who resells it to Chicago area racetracks.
It's the selling of his grain and soybeans that is his biggest challenge, however. He said he had good luck his first two years selling his crops at harvest. But this year, prices have dropped considerably from spring when he could have made contracts with elevators.
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