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Outstanding agriculture leaders recognized by Iowa Soybean Association

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Iowans proficient in stewardship, ag advocacy and research were recognized during the Iowa Soybean Associations's annual awards banquet on Thursday, Dec. 13. Back row, from left: Kevin and Julie Van Manen, Ed Ulch, Brent Larson, Denny Friest. Front row, from left: Erin Chalupa, Aimee and Klint Bissell. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Katie Johnson, ISA public relations manager

Young leaders, long-time environmental stewards and dedicated agriculture advocates were recognized by the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) during the annual awards banquet held Dec. 13 in Ankeny.

The Iowa Soybean Association recognized seven deserving individuals for their commitment and leadership in the field of agriculture to the benefit of soybean farmers and the agriculture industry. 

“Improving the competitiveness of Iowa’s soybeans would not be possible without the outstanding commitment of farmers and industry professionals,” said Lindsay Greiner, ISA president and a 2012 ISA New Leader award recipient. “Given that they rarey seek the limelight,  it’s up to us to state our appreciation for their hard work.”

The awards banquet was sponsored by ADM and Beck’s Hybrids. Awards presented and recipients were:

The Rising Star Award, sponsored by Farm Credit Services of America, was presented to Erin Chalupa in recognition of her promotion of and passion for agriculture as a young leader. Raised on a farm near Keota, Chalupa has always been passionate about promoting agriculture. As a sophomore studying agricultural communications at Iowa State University (ISU), she’s a member of the Soy Squad, ISA’s collegiate organization and tells agriculture’s story in many non-formal ways, highlighting different issues and facts through her classwork, blog posts and social media. Chalupa was just one of ten college students selected to participate in the American Soybean Association’s (ASA) Ag Voices of the Future program this summer. She traveled to Washington D.C. and learned new tools for promoting the soybean industry. 

Klint and Aimee Bissell were presented the New Leader Award, sponsored by Corteva, for their outstanding involvement and promotion of ISA programming and the soybean industry. The Bissells grow soybeans and corn on their farm near Bedford. Klint completed the Des Moines Area Community College diesel mechanics program and received a certificate in agronomy. Aimee has spent more than 15 years as a respiratory therapist at Montgomery County Hospital in addition to joining Klint on the farm full-time in 2013. Like many farm families, farming isn’t just an occupation — it’s a way of life. Part of that lifestyle is their never-ending drive to improve. Their quest for innovation and knowledge led them to ISA in January as District Advisory Council participants and the ISA Farmer Research Conference the following month. Shortly after, they were part of the ISA Experience Class, learning more about ISA and networking with other farmers. They are also ISA Communications Squad participants and will be attending the ASA Soybean Leadership College in St. Louis in January.

The Environmental Leader Award, sponsored by Peoples Co., was awarded to Brent Larson in recognition of his commitment to practicing and promoting agricultural management practices that improve the environment. Raised on a diversified family farm in Webster County, Larson wears several hats including farmer, professional farm manager at Sunderman Farm Management Co. and officer in the U.S. Air Force. A true asset to ISA, Larson shares new ideas, tools, and information with ISA and frequently refers farmers and clients to the ISA Environmental Program Services (EPS) team as a resource for further conservation efforts. He works closely with ISA on water sampling and is currently partnering with the ISA EPS team and the Natural Resources Conservation Service to complete a Resource Stewardship Evaluation on the family farm.

The Innovator of Production Research Award was presented to Denny Friest. Sponsored by John Deere, the award recognizes leadership in the use of production technology to discover, validate and effectively manage practices to improve efficiency, profitability and competitiveness of Iowa soybean farmers. Friest has demonstrated commitment to production research to improve the profitability of Iowa soybean farmers. As a fourth-generation farmer, Friest raises soybeans and corn on his family farm near Radcliffe where he has been farming for 48 years. A long-time ISA member, Friest is respected for his drive to improve and belief that sustainability works hand-in-hand with being a successful producer. He utilizes GPS and OptRx® crop sensors to measure the amount of nitrogen that a plant needs, helping reduce his input costs. As part of the ISA board of directors that initiated the On-Farm Network® in 2001, Friest has been involved with ISA’s research teams since the beginning. Friest utilizes On-Farm Network trial data to make informed management decisions, which has been vital to the success of his farming operation. Friest started conducting replicated strip trials on his operation to compare different nitrogen application rates and find ways to be more efficient and profitable. 

The Friend of the Iowa Soybean Farmer Award, sponsored by Cargill, was presented to Joel DeJong for his support of ISA and Iowa soybean farmers through his consistent actions and efforts. As the ISU Extension and Outreach field agronomist in northwest Iowa, DeJong has more than 35 years of experience working closely with farmers on integrated management of pest populations, crop management issues and nutrient and manure management planning. DeJong provides information to producers on proper nutrient and pest management practices and oversees annual pesticide applicator continuing education sessions. He also authors a monthly newsletter on timely topics for farmers in northwest Iowa. DeJong served on the ISA Research Advisory Council for several years, providing valuable input from what he was hearing from farmers in the fields. He routinely invites the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) to have a presence at meetings and events and helps ISA identify key contacts in northwest Iowa.

The Advocate for Iowa Agriculture Award, sponsored by Bayer CropScience, was awarded to Kevin and Julie Van Manen in recognition of their outstanding efforts to tell the story of modern Iowa agriculture. The Van Manens have been featured in TV spots for various agricultural promotions, including work with the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers. Kevin and Julie routinely open their farm for tours and have welcomed a wide range of consumers through various programs. They are actively involved with ISA’s Iowa Food & Family Project (Iowa FFP) and host field trips for hundreds of grade school students annually. Their advocacy extends beyond the state of Iowa as well. They hosted a family from New Jersey in 2011 through the Iowa FFP “Be Our Guest, Be A Farmer” campaign. They have also hosted veterinarians and other groups from various countries, as well as a group of educators working with the Global Youth Institute through the World Food Prize. 

The Legacy of Leadership Award, sponsored by Stine Seed Company, was awarded to Ed Ulch in recognition of his passionate and relentless commitment to growing the Iowa soybean industry. A long-time ISA leader, Ed and his wife, Louella, operate a crop and cattle farm near Solon. Ulch has consistently represented and served Iowa soybean farmers with passion and integrity. He and his son were using cover crops on 40 acres when Ulch received the 2011 American Soybean Association Conservation Legacy Award. They now utilize the practice on all their fields. Ulch also served on the Lake McBride Watershed Advisory Committee. As a former District 6 ISA director, Iowa Biodiesel Board and National Biodiesel Board member, he was a pioneer in establishing and ramping up the biodiesel industry in the state and one of the most vocal proponents for the industry. Ulch has been a steadfast supporter of improving U.S. transportation infrastructure for the benefit of soybean farmers, as well as other industries and consumers. He served as a board member on the Soy Transportation Coalition from 2008-2016.

Lauren Houska, ISA communciations specialist, contributed to this report. 

Contact Katie at Contact Lauren at

Find out more about the ISA Leadership Awards.

For media inquiries, permission to republish articles or to request high-res photos, please contact Katie James, ISA Public Relations Manager at © 2020 Iowa Soybean Association. All rights reserved.

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