12/29/2012 7:00 AM
By Jane W. Graham Virginia Correspondent
WYTHE COUNTY, Va. — A Virginia couple will head to Nashville, Tenn., next month to compete for the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmers and Ranchers Achievement Award.
Nate and April Aker of Wythe County recently were honored on the state level by the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation for their achievements as young farmers.
The Akers, both in their early 30s, competed against other couples in Virginia for the award, which was presented during the recent state convention in Chantilly, Va.
At least one member of the couple has to have income from full-time farming to be considered for the award, Nate Aker said. He is part of a family operation, Wolfpen Dairy, founded by his grandfather.
April, who grew up on a beef and sheep farm, is involved in the diversified farming she and Nate are developing, as well as launching her teaching career. She recently signed a contract as a full-time substitute teacher at nearby Sheffey Elementary School.
Finalists for the state honor are selected based on an application. Five couples were selected to be interviewed by judges at the convention, Nate Aker said.
Nate works with his father, uncle and cousin on the family farm near Ivanhoe, where they have about 175 mostly Holstein cows in the milking herd. They also employ one full-time worker and a couple of part-time helpers.
They grow all their feed for the dairy herd, including corn silage, grain, alfalfa and mixed hay.
Nate graduated from Virginia Tech in 2001 with a degree in agricultural technology and returned to the family farm. Not long after that he met April, whom he married in 2004. Their daughter, Abby, was born in 2008.
They recently purchased a farm house and have been in the process of moving in this fall. Nate, his father and his sister purchased the farm on which the house is located.
From the time he graduated and came back to the farm, Nate looked for ways to supplement his income and diversify. In 2003, he planted his first pumpkin crop on two acres. He now raises 30 acres of pumpkins to be sold strictly at wholesale.
In addition, the family has worked at expanding the dairy and doing custom work, including corn planting and harvesting, as well as manure spreading.
In 2008, Nate decided that he needed to expand his own personal operation, so he began growing wheat and corn for grain and became involved in a stocker operation in partnership with a friend. They currently run 225 animals on rented land.
Nate also grows corn for silage, having started with 20 acres and grown to 124 acres of mostly leased land. He does custom silage harvesting, as well.
The Akers have also established their own cow/calf herd starting with two cows and growing now to 20. They raise an Angus cross.
An innovation at Wolfpen Dairy is the use of tillage radishes as a cover crop, Nate said. The radishes help improve compacted soil as the roots dissolve in the spring.
He said the family is trying to do a lot more no-till farming than it has in the past.
“I couldn’t have done anything I’ve done without the support of my family,” Nate said. “It’s hard to work with family, but the situation here couldn’t be better.”
The national competition takes place during the American Farm Bureau Federation 94th annual meeting Jan. 13-16. Contestants will be evaluated on a combination of their farming operation management, growth and financial progress, and their leadership within and outside Farm Bureau.
Nate serves on the Wythe County Farm Bureau board of directors. In November, he was elected to a two-year term as chairman of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers Committee.