Indiana farmers Jacob and Jill Smoker took home the honors
By Diego Flammini
A farming couple from LaPorte County, Ind., took home national honors at the American Farm Bureau Federation Convention this week.
Cash crop and livestock producers Jacob and Jill Smoker won the Young Farmers and Ranchers Achievement Award, which recognizes young producers excelling in farming and showing leadership abilities.
“It was a shock to us both,” Jill, who helps on the farm and works off the farm as a full-time art teacher at Chesterton High School, told Farms.com.
Dave and Kelly Ferguson, farmers from Jefferson County, were the last Indiana couple to win the national award. That was in 2008.
The Smokers earned the opportunity to compete against other farmers after winning the Indiana Farm Bureau Achievement Award in December.
But the work on getting to this point started years ago.
“This is something we as a couple have been working on and building our resume for, for about the last 12 years,” Jill said. “When we first got involved with the Indiana Farm Bureau, we looked at this as a goal we wanted to get to.”
The Smokers wanted to win the award because of how it made them examine their farm.
“The award forces you to look at your operation through a different lens,” said Jacob, who manages the day-to-day tasks on the farm.
From left: Jacob Smoker, Jill Smoker, AFBF President Zippy Duvall, YF&R Committee Chair Jon Iverson, and Melissa Bufford, an account supervisor with Ford.
To prepare for the national event, the participants had to prepare a thorough application consisting of financial information, proof of the operation’s growth, and examples of leadership within and outside of the Farm Bureau.
The application is graded, and competitors must complete a 20-minute interview in front of a panel of judges.
“You have to give four years of financial history and that has to be notarized by your accountant,” Jacob said. “There’s a lot of pieces to that and it forces you to think sit down and think critically about your operation. We benefitted just from filling out the application because it showed us where how far we’ve come and got us to start thinking about where we want to go.”
The couple experienced the benefits on a personal and business level, Jill said.
“The application revealed more about each other’s character,” she said. “It’s humbling to know there’s still facets to one another haven’t tapped into. It showed us, from a business side, that we can’t stop where we’re at.”
In terms of next steps for the operation, the Smokers are trying to insulate themselves from market and supply chain shocks.
They’ll do this by expanding marketing and find new avenues for their grain, Jacob said.
“We’re going to continue to build out our branded beef program and find new ways to market our grain,” he said. “Right now, we do a lot of non-GMO, specialty crops and things like that, and we’re going to continue to seek opportunities that make sense for us.”
Making decisions that also put their children, Eli and Catherine, in a position to take over the farm, is important as well, he added.
Winning the national award also came with prizes.
The couple will receive a new vehicle from Ford and a paid registration to the AFBF Young Farmers & Ranchers Conference, slated to take place in Louisville, Ky., next month.
The timing for a new vehicle couldn’t be better, Jacob said.
“Jill’s brother is a very good mechanic and had put together pieces of a Ford Ranger,” Jacob said. “I drove ‘Frankenranger’ until it bit the dust. The farm also had a 2006 Ford F150 stick shift will rolldown windows and locks. I drove that for the longest time, and it finally bit the dust last year. I think we’ll be looking at a truck to pull a cattle trailer to service the business side and help the kids show cattle.”