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Published November 06, 2011, 11:19 PM

Crete, N.D., man is named FFA's American Star Farmer

Cole Vculek of Crete brings the same intensity, drive and commitment to farming that an Olympic athlete brings to sports.

By: Aberdeen (S.D.) American News,

CRETE, N.D. — Cole Vculek of Crete brings the same intensity, drive and commitment to farming that an Olympic athlete brings to sports.

At 21, he already owns a 640-acre diversified crop farm and rents 360 acres from a neighbor for more production. Recently, he was named FFA’s American Star Farmer, the highest honor bestowed on a young farmer, at the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis. In addition to a plaque and congratulations from U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, he received $4,000.

“I have always loved farming,” Vculek said by phone recently. “It is what I enjoy. I did farming rather than play sports.”

At 15, he began his career growing two acres of onions on his parents’ farm near Crete, northwest of Oakes, N.D. Each succeeding year, he saved the profits from his harvest to expand his farming. By the time he was a senior in high school, he was renting 200 acres from a neighbor to grow soybeans and growing 60 acres of potatoes on his parents’ land. In addition to his profits, his parents paid him an hourly wage for working on the family farm. By the time he was 21, he had enough money saved to use as a down payment on his own land.

Vculek is a fifth-generation farmer and lives in the area where his great-great-grandfather homesteaded. He said that the guidance of his family has helped him. He learned to farm from his parents, Brian and Julie Vculek, and his grandfather, he said. His family taught him a good work ethic and were always there for advice, he said.

“I probably first drove a tractor when I was 5 or 6 years old,” Vculek said. “Farming is just what I have always done.”

Credits FFA

FFA has also taught him many skills. He has been a member of the Oakes/Sargent Central FFA program. Dan Spellerberg, FFA adviser, and Kraig Steinhoff, FFA assistant director, worked with him on his farming project. Both were with him when he won his award in Indianapolis.

They pushed him to get better, he said.

Vculek has been a member of FFA in high school and in college at North Dakota State College of Science, where he earned a degree in farm management.

Although he learned a lot, he said he was more interested in farming than sitting in class. He came home almost every day to work on the farm.

“I don’t like to sit still,” he said. “I like to be doing something.”

Vculek lives in an area where the soil is sandy and most fields are irrigated. He’s grown soybeans, corn, onions, potatoes and navy beans. One day, he hopes to add sugar beets to the list, he said.

“I like farming because you can see the whole process,” he said. “You get out of it what you put into it.”

Work, details

He said the key to his success is hard work and attention to detail. It is important to get the right chemical application, good weed management and keep good records, he said.

He categorizes himself as a saver rather than a spender, but believes farmers shouldn’t skimp on equipment.

“It is important to keep up on technology,” he said.

Vculek was one of four finalists for the American Star Farmer Award. The finalists were selected based on rigorous criteria including competency on their supervised agricultural experience, demonstrated management skills, scholastic achievement, leadership and attainment of the American FFA Degree — the organization’s highest accomplishment, according to a news release. Each finalist was interviewed by a panel of judges.

“It is a real honor,” Vculek said. “Any one of the four candidates was deserving of it.”

He said in the future, he hopes to expand his farming operation. He wants to keep improving at what he loves to do, he said.