James Hepp of Calhoun County, Nate Hofmann of Linn County and Kaitlyn Porter of Franklin County have been named Iowa Farm Bureau’s 2024 Young Farmer Leadership Award recipients.

The award, created in honor of former Iowa Farm Bureau President Bob Joslin, recognizes farmers under the age of 35 who contribute to and demonstrate leadership within their communities and agriculture. 

Each winner is given a $2,000 grant to designate to a non-profit of their choice, an expense paid trip to the 2025 American Farm Bureau Annual Convention or Young Farmers and Ranchers Conference, an expense paid trip to the 2025 Iowa Farm Bureau Young Farmer Conference, $1500 in cash from GROWMARK and a $500 gift certificate from Grainger.

James Hepp, Calhoun County

As a first-generation farmer, James Hepp is a rarity among the multi-generation farms prevalent across Iowa. He was given the opportunity to farm by a friend’s father who was entering retirement. What began as a few acres quickly grew as Hepp impressed farmland owners with his drive to continuously improve the land. 

Hepp grows corn, soybeans, rye for seed and has a strong focus on conservation. He hosts field days on his farm to share his knowledge about improving soil health with other farmers, with an emphasis on cover crops and no-till practices. He hopes to preserve the integrity of the land so his two young boys, who he raises with his wife Paige, can have the opportunity to farm. 

As a self-proclaimed “underdog” in the farming world, Hepp’s advice to this next generation of farmers is to get involved in your community and make connections. “If you see people you think are successful, ask to work with them,” he says. “Just learn, try different things, put in the extra mile, find what interests you and keep reevaluating yourself.”

In that spirit, Hepp continues to expand his roles within the community. He is an Iowa Farm Bureau Ag Leaders Institute graduate and is the Calhoun County Farm Bureau board president. As president, he enjoys teaching youth in schools about farming and general safety. Many of these lessons come from his experience as a volunteer firefighter. It’s because of this role, Hepp is donating his award grant money to the Hometown Heroes Memorial Ride in Rockwell City. 

This ride honors public safety professionals who were killed in the line of duty, including the late Urbandale police officer Justin Martin, a Rockwell City native and high school friend of Hepp’s. Funds raised from the ride support those interested in public safety careers, support families of first responders facing hardship and provide equipment for local safety departments. 

Nate Hofmann, Linn County

Nate Hofmann farms outside of Cedar Rapids with his father and brother, raising corn, soybeans and cattle. Farming so close to an urban area presents both challenges and opportunities for Hofmann. He says he receives questions from his suburban neighbors about farming practices, but it gives him the chance to learn about their priorities and how he can address those concerns.

Every year, he also invites his church congregation out to the farm to experience firsthand the innovations and advancements in farming. “There’s just something wholesome when people can come out and share time at the farm with us,” he says. “I think they’re familiar with an old-fashioned version of farming, and they’re surprised how much of a modern farm we have today.”

 It’s during his time in Iowa Farm Bureau’s Ag Leaders Institute where Hofmann says he gained confidence in agricultural advocacy, which has helped him with interviews with KCRG on trade, weather impacts and markets. He serves as Linn County Farm Bureau’s voting delegate and uses his knowledge on ag-related policy to build relationships with local and state government officials and keep them aware of issues that impact agriculture. 

He and his wife, Johanna, have two young boys. In his goal to keep up with them and the physical demands of farming, Hofmann prioritizes physical activity and a well-balanced diet. In the summer, he can be found running rural roads surrounding his farm, which he says also gives him a chance to check crops. This concentration on wellness is why he is awarding his grant money to Tooth Brushers and Balaam's Donkey, an organization that provides dental care to individuals in assisted-living facilities. This cause became personal for Hofmann after a livestock-related injury led him to undergo dental work after losing three teeth, underscoring the importance of dental health.

Kaitlyn Porter, Franklin County

Kaitlyn Porter knew from an early age she wanted to be a teacher. 

“I’m the oldest of four siblings,” she says. “Mom was big on if you’re bored, go find something to do. So, we played a lot of school, and I loved to be the teacher.” 

As a farmer raising corn, beans, cattle and direct-to-consumer beef, she married her love for agriculture and education as the FFA advisor at West Fork High School. She is passionate about helping her students harness their individual strengths, find their unique place in the agricultural industry and develop their communication skills. 

A major project for her students is managing a six-acre test plot. This year, it is planted to sorghum that will be harvested for cattle feed. The plot gives young adults the opportunity to learn agronomy, technology, data analysis and crop marketing. Porter also teaches an ag leadership course that equips youth to be better proponents in the industry, from discussions with neighbors to legislators. 

As a Franklin County Farm Bureau board member and cattle farmer, Porter practices what she preaches. This year, she met with legislators to promote laws that would alleviate livestock tax burdens on beginning farmers, which successfully went into effect in 2024. 

Porter enjoys connecting her community to agriculture at library events, county fairs and Ag Day with local schools. Through her interactions selling beef at local farmers markets, she seizes the opportunity to share her on-farm story and pride in animal care—often referring to her cows as “pampered”—with customers at farmers markets. 

Porter is using her grant money from the award to support the Kyle Porter Foundation, named in honor of her late husband who passed away in a farm-related accident. The foundation provides scholarships and supports initiatives that benefit local youth. “It helps fund different projects Kyle would be passionate about to keep carrying on his legacy,” she says. “I think he would be proud of the work we’re doing.”

Each winner will be recognized during Iowa Farm Bureau’s annual meeting in Des Moines on Dec. 11.