Ketterling realizes FFA, life goals while chasing a Star

Wishek, N.D.'s Cole Ketterling is a finalist for American Star Farmer, one of four of the organization's top awards. A recent college graduate, Ketterling also has followed a long-planned career path back to the farm.

Cole Ketterling's new office at the Farm Credit Services of Mandan branch in Wishek, N.D., includes a photo of the 2017-18 North Dakota FFA officer team, on which Ketterling was president. Ketterling is one of four finalists for the American Star Farmer Award, to be announced Oct. 28, 2020. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)

Editor's note: This is the second in a two-part series on Star finalists from the region. The first featured Cole Schock of Salem, S.D. )

WISHEK, N.D. — Life has been moving fast of late for Cole Ketterling.

Just three years ago, he was the North Dakota Star Farmer and North Dakota FFA president. He entered North Dakota State University in the fall of 2017 with a year’s worth of credits already under his belt.

After his term as president ended, he flew through the next two years of college. Ketterling graduated in the spring of 2020, returned home to Wishek, N.D., to work as a loan officer at the local Farm Credit Services of Mandan branch and to continue his farm and ranch operation. Then he bought a house and got engaged.

Now, he’ll end October by putting a cap on his FFA career when he receives his American Degree and competes as a finalist to be named American Star Farmer based on his crop and beef cattle oriented supervised agricultural experience, his scholastic performance, volunteering, leadership and more.


“My goal wasn’t always to do this to win the award,” Ketterling said. “It was always to do this because this is something I want to do someday. But the award is pretty great to be recognized, especially with all the past winners you see.”

The American Degree is FFA’s highest degree. When Ketterling applied for his American Degree, he also decided to go a step further and apply for the American Star Farmer designation.

The American Star award recognizes “FFA members who rise to the top,” the organization’s website explains. In addition to Star Farmer, Star awards are given in the areas of agribusiness, agricultural placement and agriscience. Star recipients are members who have “gone above and beyond in their attitude, involvement, community service and supervised agricultural experience,” the National FFA Organization explains. Ketterling is one of four nominees for American Star Farmer. Four finalists have been selected for each of the other three categories; South Dakota’s Cole Schock is a finalist for American Star in Agricultural Placement . The finalists already have gone through interviews with judges and now await the final results.

Winners of Star awards will be announced during the National FFA Convention, which will be held virtually Oct. 27-29. The Star awards are listed on the convention schedule for Oct. 28.

Goals accomplished

Ketterling’s corner office in the little Farm Credit building along the main drag through Wishek displays his farm and FFA roots. Canvas photos, of a harvest scene and of sunflowers, adorn the walls, along with a sign featuring his name burned into wood and bookended by John Deere logos. An FFA coat hangs on the back of his desk chair, and on a little shelf on the back of his desk is a photo of the 2017-18 North Dakota FFA officer team Ketterling led. From that vantage point, he reflected on the path through FFA that helped get him behind that desk.

Ketterling grew up on a farm, and his family has a long history in FFA; his dad also was a North Dakota Star Farmer. So, no surprise, he joined the organization in seventh grade and found it fit him. He built his supervised agricultural experience around what he already was doing: raising cow-calf pairs, feeding yearlings in the feedlot and farming corn, soybeans, wheat and sunflowers. He also served his senior year in high school as the president of the Wishek FFA chapter and participated in a myriad of FFA activities.

“It’s probably something that I don’t regret one bit,” he said. “And my most enjoyable high school experiences come from FFA.”


When he wrapped up his storied high school FFA career, Ketterling’s plan was to study ag economics and accounting in college to work as a loan officer or ag lender and continue work on the family farm. With those goals accomplished now, his American Degree and being a finalist for American Star Farmer are just icing on the cake.

“At this point, I’m just happy to be a finalist. It would be super cool to win, but I’m just happy to be a finalist,” he said.

Ketterling’s quick transition to adulthood continues. He and his fiance plan to marry next fall. He’s expanded his cattle herd and the acreage he farms over the past few years. And his enthusiasm for FFA has never wavered.

“If you have kids or if you’re a student that’s thinking about it, FFA will kind of make you challenge yourself,” he said. “And it is what you put into it too. It can make you step out of your comfort zone and realize you have interests you didn’t think you had before.”

Jenny Schlecht is the director of ag content for Agweek and serves as editor of Agweek, Sugarbeet Grower and BeanGrower. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at or 701-595-0425.
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