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24 Emerging Ag Leaders Named for Iowa Corn I-LEAD Class 8

October 12, 2016

I-LEAD Class 7 Graduates, Reflects on Last Two Years

Today, twenty-four men and women from across Iowa have been officially named to Class 8 of the Iowa Corn Leadership Enhancement and Development (I-LEAD) program, sponsored by the Iowa Corn Promotion Board (ICPB) and the Iowa Corn Growers Association (ICGA). I-LEAD is a two-year program to provide Iowa’s talented men and women with the tools they need to succeed as leaders and spokespeople for the agriculture industry.

“Helping identify and mold new agriculturists continues to be tantamount to our industry’s future success,” said Iowa Corn Promotion Board President Larry Klever, a farmer from Audubon. “These individuals have made agriculture not only part of their occupation, but their passion. I-LEAD ensures we have effective ag leaders serving at all levels of our state commodity boards and organizations.”

Members of Class 7 of the I-LEAD graduated and received recognition during a ceremony prior to the Iowa Corn Annual Grassroots Summit meeting in late August. Class 7 includes: Elizabeth Burns-Thompson (Polk), Connie Casson (Pottawattamie), Matt Eddy (Polk), Alex Edgington (Mitchell), Michael Fritch (Polk), Drew Gieselman (Linn), Katie Hall-Despins (Polk), Laura Holoubek (Polk), James Jordan (Story), Bonnie Kroneman (Mitchell), Brandon Maier (Wright), Chris Mehrens (O’Brien), Maury Noonan (Cerro Gordo), Sara Ross (Pottawattamie), Jason Schwenneker (Polk), Marcie Stevenson (Story), Adam Theis (Omaha, NE), and Charlie White (Poweshiek).

“I-LEAD exposes you to more of the world and provides you tools to be able to listen, learn and confidently share your story with the media, consumers and people from other countries,” explained Michael Fritch of Class 7, a farmer from Central Iowa. “I am more knowledgeable about the issues facing our industry and I am better able to talk to the public and lawmakers about those issues.”

The new Class 8 will meet in a series of ten sessions over two years to build practical communications and decision-making skills, develop key contacts in Iowa and beyond, and explore the challenges confronting agriculture and rural Iowa. They will attend National Corn Congress, go on a domestic mission and will also decide as a class if they will go on an international mission.

Class 8 represents a broad range of individuals with diverse backgrounds and careers from production agriculture, the food and agriculture industry, education and government including:

  • Alyssa Amelon, Washington – As the Agricultural Educator and FFA Advisor at Keota Jr. /Sr. High School, Alyssa teaches seven different agriculture classes daily, ranging in grades from seventh to twelve grade with topics ranging from Ag Metals, Ag Construction, Ag Business and Animal and Plant Science. She also supervises the FFA Land Lab where students have the chance to grow corn, soybeans and oats.

  • Adam Bierbaum, Cass – Currently pursuing his Master Degree in Agronomy at Iowa State University, Adam farms with his family on their century farm near Griswold. He is a former member of the Iowa Corn Collegiate Advisory Team (CAT) and is active on the Cass County Corn Growers Board and serves as an Iowa Corn District 7 Board Member.

  • Melanie Bloom, Buena Vista – Melanie serves as a Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education (CASE) writer and has a Master’s Degree from Iowa State University in Agricultural Education. Her husband farms in Buena Vista County.

  • Jake Comer, Polk – As the Fuel Category Manager at Kum & Go convenience stores, Jake role involves pricing retail fuel, marketing fuel, improving efficiency, reducing costs and managing budgetary goals. Kum & Go sells the most E85 in the nation and one of Jake’s main duties is to educate consumers about the benefits of these higher blends of ethanol.

  • Rich Crow, Woodbury – Rich is an Assistant Professor of Agronomy in the Applied Ag and Food Studies Program at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. In his position he is responsible for developing, planning, and teaching coursework in Agronomy and General Ag Studies.

  • Mike Dierickx, Scott – Mike and his wife operate a farm in Long Grove where they grow corn and soybeans. He also assists his parents with the daily operation of their farm as well as manages a custom application business emphasizing in late season nitrogen application and fungicide applications.

  • Molly Dolch, Adair -As a high school teacher at West Central Valley High school in Stuart, Molly teaches about food, agriculture, plants, welding and agricultural mechanics. She also advises the school’s FFA chapter and school garden.

  • Wade Kent, Polk – Wade is a Central Iowa field agronomist for Beck’s Superior Hybrids providing agronomic and product training to the Beck’s sales team as well as working dealers and customers for product placement and agronomy support throughout the year.

  • Katie Kramer, Jasper – Katie serves as the Executive Director of the Jasper County USDA- Farm Service Agency Office. Her primary responsibility is directing and managing government programs put into law by the farm bill.

  • Keaton Krueger, Polk – As an Agriculture Technology Specialist for Winfield US, Keaton’s, his primary role is to support his company’s partnered and proprietary ag technology tools at the ground level. Much of his time is spent working with local retail agronomists and growers, training them on how to use ag technology to improve production and profitability, while efficiently managing inputs.

  • Andrew Lauver, Calhoun –Currently pursuing his Masters of Agribusiness Degree at Kansas State University, Andrew also farms on his fifth generation family farm in Rockwell City.

  • T.J. Masker, Polk – T.J. works directly helps farmers utilize agronomic data to make better input decisions in his role as Agronomic Information Advisor at Premier Crop Systems, LLC.

  • Elyssa McFarland, Muscatine – As the Soil Health Partnership Iowa Field Manager, Elyssa manages the coordination of research plots and data collection as well as maintaining relationships with SHP network farmers, partnering with local organizations, and communicating SHP goals and results. She also farms 170 acres in a corn-soybean rotation independently and participates in the management of her family farm including corn, soybeans, hay, and beef. 

  • Paul Nees, Story – Paul serves as the Director of the Operations at REG, a producer of biodiesel and bio-chemicals. He is responsible for commodity risk management and hedging, market analysis and ensuring optimum communication to the operations and leadership teams.

  • TJ Page, Polk – TJ serves as Iowa Corn Market Development Manager managing the organization’s programs related to livestock, ethanol, and exports.

  • Allyson Parman, Polk – As Iowa Corn Publications Manager, Allyson oversees the writing and production of all Iowa Corn’s publications and newsletters.

  • Mike Poeppe, Palo Alto – Mike works for Ritch Berkland Seed Sales helping with sales, delivery and treatments for all customers. He currently serves as the Palo Alto Corn Growers President.

  • Kale Peterson, Clinton – Kale is a Grain Merchandiser at River Valley Coop in Eldridge. In his role, he assists farmers with marketing corn and soybeans, and makes sales to end users. 

  • Tara Jo Pralle, Franklin – Tara works as an Insurance Account Specialist at Farm Credit Services of America assisting customers in their risk management decisions and helping with marketing in a seven county region in Eastern Iowa.

  • Joel Pudenz, Carroll – Serving as a Grain Marketing Advisor for Landus Cooperative, Joel assists local farmers in marketing and logistical opportunities to add value to their operations.  

  • Brent Schwenneker, Dallas – Brent manages the Monsanto Huxley Learning Center which hosts more than 6,000 guests every year. He also currently farms more than 800 acres with his brother in Audubon and Guthrie Counties.

  • Evan Sieck, Pottawattamie – Evan is a real estate salesperson at Jim Hughes Real Estate in Glenwood. Evan is a graduate of Iowa Corn’s CAT team program.

  • Stacey Webster, Boone – As Director of Cooperative Development at the Iowa Institute for Cooperatives, Stacey works to enhance her the success of their members providing them resources, education and training.

  • Ben Whaley, Linn – Ben is the Senior Research Associate for Pioneer Hi-Bred International managing 30 corn and 28 soybean test plots in the Northeast Iowa Territory.


The Iowa Corn I-LEAD program is a two-year program to provide Iowa’s talented men and women with the tools they need to succeed as leaders and spokespeople for agriculture. The I-LEAD program is sponsored by the Iowa Corn Promotion Board (ICPB) and the Iowa Corn Growers Association (ICGA) because they recognize that the future of Iowa agriculture depends on the developing new leaders who share a passion for agriculture’s future. I-LEAD is a two-year program and class members come from diverse backgrounds but share a common commitment to the future of agriculture in Iowa. Learn More.

The Iowa Corn Promotion Board (ICPB), works to develop and defend markets, fund research, and provide education about corn and corn products.  The Iowa Corn Growers Association (ICGA) is an 8,000-member strong grassroots-driven organization, headquartered in Johnston, Iowa, serving members across the state, and lobbying on agricultural issues on behalf of its farmer members to create opportunities for long-term Iowa corn grower profitability. For more information, visit

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