News & Media

Top Young Farmers Recognized

Mark Morgan of Clarksville and Matt Shekels of Harrison, earned the top two Young Farmers & Ranchers awards. The two and their families were honored July 22 at Arkansas Farm Bureau’s 71st Officers & Leaders Conference at the Hot Springs Convention Center. The awards honor young farmers and ranchers ages 18-35 for the general excellence of their operations, their hard work and innovation. 

Morgan, 33, and his wife Shay, 31, earned the YF&R Achievement Award. The couple owns Peach Pickin Paradise, a 3,500-tree orchard specializing in “u-pick” and ag tourism. They also have a cow-calf operation and are involved in the family turkey-raising business. Award candidates are judged on their leadership abilities and involvement in Farm Bureau and their local community. 

“It means a lot and is fulfilling for me and my wife,” Morgan said. “The whole basis of the award is to plot your course from the time you start farming to see how much progress you’ve made. The other competitors were deserving as well.” 

The Morgans won $35,000 courtesy of Southern Farm Bureau Casualty Co. and an expense-paid trip to Austin, Texas in January to represent Arkansas at the American Farm Bureau annual conference. The Achievement Award recognizes young farmers and ranchers who have excelled in their farming/ranching operations and exhibited outstanding leadership abilities. The Morgans have two children, Kate and Luke. 

Runners-up for the award were Drew and Laura Davis of Bono and Jeremy and Tracie Kitchens of Lewisville. The Davis’ farm 1,900 acres of rice, soybeans and corn. They also are partners in a cattle operation and provide contract hauling. They have two children, Kate and Luke. The Kitchens own a cattle and swine operation and grow corn, wheat, soybeans and hay. They also run a custom meat market where they sell directly to the customer. They have one son, Gage. Both couples won $5,000. 

Matt and Terrie Shekels won the YF&R Excellence in Ag Award. Their Boone County cattle operation consists of a herd of 50 purebred Angus cattle and 20 registered black Angus. They also have an artificial insemination/embryo transfer business. Matt, 33, is an animal science and ag business professor at the College of the Ozarks. Terrie, 34, is a registered nurse. They have three boys, Andrew, Caleb and Aaron. 

The Shekels received an $11,000 check for winning courtesy of Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. and PCI Publishing Co. They will also represent Arkansas on an expense-paid trip to the American Farm Bureau convention in Austin, Texas next January. 

“Unbelievable,” said Matt. “It’s a huge honor. It wasn’t expected, but we’re grateful. I think the YF&R program is a lifeline to Farm Bureau to keep the energy going and to keep connected to what’s going on with the younger generation.” 

The runners-up for the award were Michael and Monica Paskewitz of Melbourne and Jared and Michelle Pass of Hartford. The Paskewitzs run cow-calf operation of Angus-cross cows. Monica works for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Izard County and Michael is staff chair of the Izard Co. Cooperative Extension Service. They have two daughters, Maddie and Maylee. The Pass family owns and operates Pass Farms and Mountain View Ranch, a 200-acre farm where they raise cattle, horses, chickens, goats and grow hay. Jared is employed at Westark Plumbing and Michelle is a licensed therapist. They have two sons, Brody and Blain, and one daughter, Bristol.

Winners earn expense paid trips in January to the American Farm Bureau Federation National Conference in Austin, Tex. where they will compete for national awards. The winners of the national YF&R Discussion Meet, Achievement Award and Excellent in Agriculture Award will receive a 2020 Ford truck and paid registration to the AFBF YF&R Leadership Conference in Louisville, Ken., March 13-16, 2020. Runner-up receives: Case IH Farmall 50A, courtesy of Case IH. Third Place receives: Case IH 40” Combination Roll Cabinet & Top Chest and $500 Case IH parts card, courtesy of Case IH plus$2,200worth of Stanley Black & Decker merchandise (PROTO, DeWalt, Stanley, Lenox & Irwin), courtesy of Stanley Black & Decker. Fourth Place receives: Case IH 40” Combination Roll Cabinet & Top Chest and a $500 Case IH parts card, courtesy of Case IH.

Arkansas Farm Bureau is a nonprofit, private advocacy organization with almost 192,000 families throughout the state working to improve farm and rural life.

For photos of the winners and finalists, visit our Flickr album.

For more information, contact: 

Rob Anderson
(501) 228-1640


Gregg Patterson
(501) 228-1282