As Ric Eaves accepted his award in San Antonio, Texas, he knew he achieved his family's lifelong dream. He was named one of four national outstanding young farmers by the United States Junior Chamber at an awards ceremony Feb. 14.
"Ric was proud to follow in his dad's footsteps," said his wife, Tammy. Mr. Eaves, his parents, Glenn and Jean, and his brother, Glenn Jr., operate Oak Bluff Farms in Woodsboro. Glenn Eaves was named the Maryland Outstanding Young Farmer in 1970.
"It's as much recognition to him as it is me," Mr. Eaves, 37, said of his father. His mother told him she had waited for the day he won the honor her whole life. She accompanied the Eaveses and their daughter, Rachel, 22 months, on the trip. Glenn Eaves stayed home to keep the farm running.
"They work their hearts out," Mr. Eaves said of his parents.
Mr. Eaves was one of 25 nominees from across the country for the National Outstanding Young Farmer (OYF) title. Each candidate was nominated by their respective states, and Mr. Eaves was nominated by the Maryland Jaycees.
A video presentation introduced the nominees and showed pictures of their operations before the four winners were announced. Other winners hailed from Wisconsin, Nebraska and Minnesota.
"We were in shock, we didn't have any clue," Mrs. Eaves said.
There were many tremendously qualified applicants, including vegetable and sugar beet growers and beef cattle ranchers that used horses to work them, she said. "There were quite a few dairy farmers."
Mr. Eaves recalled sitting next to an Oregon cattle farmer at a rodeo they attended when they first arrived in Texas. The cattle farmer asked Mr. Eaves how many cows he milks and didn't bat an eyelash when he said 3,000. Later, Mr. Eaves discovered the Oregon resident he sat next to was also an OYF nominee.
Filling out the in-depth, multiple-page application took weeks, Mrs. Eaves said. The winners were chosen by their applications before they arrived at the conference, but organizers observed them during the awards congress. The application focused on areas such as nutrient management, soil conservation, how the farmer got started, improvements and inventions, and challenges and difficulties.
Involvement in the community and education are other important aspects for applicants, and Mrs. Eaves organizes Oak Bluff's educational program by giving farm tours. She said schools, bus tours from as far away as Ohio and even doctors from the National Institutes of Health visited the operation. She also works one day a month as a registered nurse.
They enjoyed their time in Texas being interviewed by nationally recognized agriculture journalist Orion Samuelson and visiting landmarks such as The Alamo and old Spanish missions.
"It was just a tremendous time," Mrs. Eaves said. By networking with other OYF nominees, they made lifelong friends and brought home a wealth of knowledge.
They received a plaque, pins, yellow roses, John Deere hats and a $1,000 check.
Mr. and Mrs. Eaves participated in Farm Bureau's Young Farmer program and were named in the top 10 in nation, but they view the OYF designation as their biggest honor.
"I encourage everybody who has the opportunity to fill out an application to do so," Mrs. Eaves said.
Oak Bluff Farms
In addition to the thousands of cows the Eaves family milks, they also farm 5,000 acres.
"A small portion of them are mine," Mr. Eaves said as he pointed out the cows that stood in one building that held 1,200 of the bovines.
The farm employs about 60 people, including other family members.
The number of employees and cattle are both down, he said, and the family finds it difficult to purchase cattle due to the closed Canadian border. They buy quite a few in New Holland, Pa.
Family members carve out their own niches on the farm.
"I take care of anything mechanical," Mr. Eaves said, including tractors and implements and equipment used in the milking, which takes place nearly 24 hours a day with a few hours needed for cleanup between two milking shifts. Milk is trucked directly from the farm often to the Carolinas and now to New Jersey.
Mr. Eaves' mechanical savvy is obvious in his inventions -- ideas that make the work load a little lighter. He crafted silage wagons to handle large loads as the crops are harvested in the fields and hauled to the farm to feed the cows throughout the year. He also devised a cooling system for the cows that involved sprinklers.
One idea was to attach a tire to the back of a small tractor. As the tractor runs down the center of the cow barn, the tire rotates and pushes the total mixed ration the cows eat closer to them.
Son Ryan, 9, enjoys that job when he's not in class in the fourth grade at New Midway Elementary. The Eaveses live in New Midway, and they also have another daughter Rayann, 4.
Ryan is active in 4-H and raises and shows swine, rabbits, poultry and guinea pigs. He is taking a tractor safety class through 4-H.
"It's such a big operation, our children are not allowed on the farm unless we are right beside them," Mrs. Eaves said.
Mr. Eaves is integrating technology into the mix at the farm. The weather is at his fingertips on a computer. He uses a laptop computer and palm pilot to keep tabs on the farm's acreage. This spring he hopes to implement a global positioning system and even a self-guiding system for the tractor.
"The machines are so complicated, there's hardly time to drive," he said.
But, he also uses the time-honored method of consulting the Farmer's Almanac, which has been pretty right on with its predictions this year, he said.
"We're busy. Right now we're trying to get things tightened up for spring," Mr. Eaves said, following a winter of snow removal.
"I do just as much mechanical work as I can do in a day," Mr. Eaves said. He supervises three people in the shop, and he plants all the crops himself.
"I like to personally ride over every acre," he said. Some crops they grow are corn, wheat, alfalfa and rye.
He invests almost all his money back into the farm. In the early 1980s he began purchasing farm equipment, and a round hay baler was his project in the FFA, a high school agricultural education organization. He obtained the American Farmer Degree, the FFA's highest honor.
Five national winners have hailed from Maryland since the contest began. Chuck and Paula Fry of Tuscarora were the last winners from Frederick County in 1999, and Greg and Becky Wiles of Williamsport were the last Maryland winners in 2001.
Some of the past Maryland winners attended this year's event, Mrs. Eaves said. "There was a good supporting crowd from Maryland."
The 48th National OYF Awards Congress was sponsored by John Deere and supported by the National Association of County Agricultural Agents and the Outstanding Farmer of America Fraternity. The event attracted 200 participants, including past winners from as far back as 1954.
The Outstanding Young Farmer program is a national recognition for young farmers between the ages of 21 and 39. The program honors young people who work hard to make a difference in the various aspects of the agriculture industry and encourages them to continue their pursuits.
It brings about a greater interest in the farmer, fosters better urban-rural relations through the understanding of the farmer's problems, develops an appreciation of their contributions and achievements and informs the agribusiness community of the growing urban awareness of farmers' importance and impact on America's economy.
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