S.D. State student is winner of ag award | TSLN.com

S.D. State student is winner of ag award

Madison Hokanson (right) and her sister Kendrah Schaefer work together in the family pig barn. Madison plans to return home to the family cattle and pig operation upon graduduation from South Dakota State University. Photo courtesy Madison Hokanson

Minnesota pig farmer and cattle rancher Madison (Schafer) Hokanson was named the Forrest Bassford Student Award winner at the Livestock Publications Council annual meeting this week.

Hokanson, a South Dakota State University student, said she was honored to be chosen for the scholarship, and excited to represent her college, which had not produced a winner since Erin Pettigrew took home the award in 1994.

Besides the $2,000 scholarship that will pay for her trip to the Aug. 4-8, Scottsdale, Arizona meeting, Hokanson said she's had the chance to connect with a multitude of professionals in the agricultural communications world.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here since Saturday and have met countless people! LPC has set the four of us finalists up with industry professionals each day to introduce us to their connections across the country, and that has been so helpful," she said.

When she applied last spring, Hokanson's last name was Schafer – she and Eric Hokanson wed just two weeks before the August convention. The junior ag communications/ag leadership double major student submitted a 200 word essay describing what she viewed the "future of agriculture" to be, and where she fit into that scenario. Hokanson also submitted a news release that was written as though she had already won the award.

She received word during finals week that she had been chosen as a finalist for the award, and would be flown, along with the other three top contenders, to the convention for an interview and judging of her portfolio before the final section would be made.

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Each of the finalists was provided with a $750 travel scholarship to make the trip to the convention possible, but the winner takes home a bigger award – a scholarship totaling $2,000.

Katrina Hoffstutler, owner of Cactus Flower Communications was one of the interview judges for the award. She said the field of candidates was competitive this year, and that each of the four finalists ought to be proud. The connections they made during the conference will last their entire career, she said.

Hokanson's personality and poise helped her land the top award. "Madison scored very high in all categories, but really blew us away in the interview portion. She was passionate, knowledgeable and articulate. What really struck me, though, was her composure, which showed great maturity and preparation. Had this been a job interview, I would have hired her on the spot," said Hoffstutler an LPC board member who hails from Texas.

The other three finalists were Kiera Leddy, Oklahoma State University; Alexa Nordwald, University of Missouri and Sarah Moyer, Kansas State University.

A multitude of internships – for John Deere-SEMA Equipment, Minnesota Farm Bureau, Compeer Financial and Legend Seeds have offered diverse experiences that have helped prepare Hokanson for a career in agriculture. The young farmer was also chosen as one of three individuals to serve in an inaugural class sponsored by the National Pork Board, called Pig Farmers of Tomorrow.

Hokanson hopes to return as the seventh generation on her family's 2,200 sow and 350 head purebred Gelbvieh and Balancer operation when she graduates. She may gradually take over the bookkeeping duties from her grandmother, and work in ag communications on the side. Her husband Eric, who grew up on a farm in the same county and will graduate next year with an ag systems technology degree, also looks forward to returning to their home county of Goodhue.

While she enjoys many aspects of agricultural communications, Hokanson is particularly passionate about telling the story of agriculture to the consuming public. "I started as a ninth grader doing an "oink outing" for the Minnesota Pork Board. We'd go to St. Paul and Minneapolis to talk to people at farmers markets and other events like that. That's where I learned that not many people grow up on a farm or understand what it's all about. They don't realize that a farm with 5,000 pigs can be just as good as a farm with 50 pigs, it's all about the people behind it and the care they provide the animals. "

Connecting with people of all ages and backgrounds is a strength Hokanson humbly admits to possessing. "Whether it's a vegan in downtown Minnesota who's never been on a farm or a 70-year-old farmer who will never retire, I'm able to go and find some common ground with any type of person. I want to know their story and learn more about them and in doing so it allows me to connect and build a sense of trust."