Alyssa Gruszie Wins Star Farmer Finalist Status


June 24, 2020

Multiple competitions took place during the 90th Montana FFA Convention held late last month, and one of the winners was Alyssa Gruszie from the Chinook FFA. Gruszie emerged as a Star Farmer Finalist, making it in the top four among 175 competitors.

In other competition, the Chinook FFA Chapter Conduct of Meeting team comprised of Bree Swanson, Morgan Friede, Ryley Hofeldt, Torin Cecrle, and Aislinn Handy placed fifth. Madilyn Gruszie also competed in Livestock.

Because the 90th Annual Montana FFA State Convention could not meet in Great Falls on March 25-28 when the state was under a quarantine order by Governor Steve Bullock's Stay at Home Directive, the organization held the State FFA Convention in a virtual format on May 20-21. This online event provided an opportunity to recognize students from across the state for their hard work. The sessions were streamed on the Montana FFA Association's Facebook page with winners also announced on YouTube and Instagram platforms.

The State Star Farmer is a prestigious award issued for outstanding achievement in a production agriculture Supervised Agricultural Experience (SAE). It further demonstrates superior involvement in all phases of the chapter's activities and active participation in the FFA.

Rachel Stevenson of the Hobson FFA came away as the State Winner of the Star Farmer Award. Other finalists included Abby Fritz (Kalispell FFA) and Sadie Johnson (Roy FFA).

According to Chinook FFA Chapter Advisor, Robin Allen, reaching finalist status as a Star Farmer was a lengthy process. Gruszie, who is the daughter of Trisha and Allen Gruszie, was not only interviewed via telecommunication but required to complete a twenty-one page Montana State Degree application and a sixteen-page Star Farmer application.

In these application materials, Gruszie had to verify not only that she had received the Chapter FFA Degree and been an active FFA member for at least two years at the time of receiving the State FFA Degree but to give evidence of both satisfactory academic achievement and leadership excellence.

According to FFA definitions, a demonstration of leadership ability involves performing ten procedures of parliamentary law, delivering a six-minute speech on a topic relating to agriculture or the FFA, and serving as an officer, committee chairperson, or participating member of a chapter committee. Gruszie most recently has served as president of the Chinook FFA Chapter.

Another prerequisite was completing a minimum of 25 hours of community service in at least two different activities. With her volunteerism through 4-H, the FFA, and the JUMP Youth Group, Gruszie accumulated over 140 hours of service to the Chinook community.

Leadership further includes an SAE program in which the candidate has earned and productively invested at least $1,500 or worked at least 450 hours in excess of scheduled class time.

Gruszie met this requirement by providing financial records and evidence of achievement with her Animal Systems Pathway over a span of seven years. Her SAE has involved raising swine, sheep, and cattle under the businesses Grusize Show Pigs, Bear Paw Sheep, and Diamond 2 Angus.

Gruszie Show Pigs began after Gruszie purchased two breeding sows from Chuck Terry in 2013. To add diversity to her passel-the term used to identify a group of hogs-in 2014 she bought two more sows form Shipley Swine Genetics. Then in 2015, as she continued to build her passel, she travelled to Colorado to buy two sows from Craine Show Pigs. That year, she sold 48 piglets to various fair competitors across Montana and learned how to artificially inseminate sows.

By 2016, Gruszie was looking for higher muscled boars to breed the sows in her team. She doubled her sow numbers by purchasing six animals from Cain Super Sires to add more muscle to her show pig breed.

Liking the muscle definition genetics, in 2017 Gruszie bought two additional females from Cain Super Sires. She also discovered how to ultrasound her sows to ensure they are bred and built a farrowing room that holds six sows with their young.

In 2018, after losing one sow due to the cold winter, Gruszie purchased two more sows from Cain Super Sires and sold 75 piglets for show in the fairs around Montana. She currently owns a passel of 15 sows.

Last year, in an effort to find the best feed mixture at an affordable cost, Gruszie became a dealer for Moorman Show Feed and gained information about what rations to use for different animals. She currently shares this knowledge with her customers.

Her Bear Paw Sheep project likewise saw its beginning in 2013 when one of the family dogs attacked her 4-H market lamb, preventing her from taking the animal to the Blaine County Fair.

"I decided to breed her the next year. That experience actually sparked my interest in breeding animals," Gruszie explained.

In 2013, she purchased fifteen ewes from Pat Molyneaux and continued building her flock until January 2019 when she sold all 67 head of her sheep.

"I was just losing too much money because the coyotes were killing them," Gruszie reported.

Even though she purchased her first market steer from Gordon Cattle Company in 2013, Diamond 2 Angus didn't launch until 2017 when Gruszie purchased two open heifers and one bred heifer at the NILE Stock Show and Sale. By keeping the heifers and selling the bull calves, her herd has grown to eight, and she is gaining knowledge about expected progeny differences (EPDs) so as to estimate the genetic value of an animal as a parent.

"I have learned all the EPDs on my cattle and how to match bulls to cows so they produce high quality offspring. When I first started my SAE, I had my parents helping me with most of my work. Now, I am in charge of breeding, vaccinating, feeding, and managing my animals. I am able to artificially inseminate my sows, and I've learned how to keep my records up-to-date," Gruszie said.

Among her greatest accomplishments, Gruszie names raising and selling to FFA members hogs that placed in the top 15 at their county fairs in both showmanship and carcass. "I enjoy helping members with their feed, showmanship, and market questions as they prepare for their shows," she said.

"Another accomplishment I have is being able to perform multiple ranch-related tasks, like pulling calves, selling hogs, finding feed ratios, keeping records, and properly vaccinating and handling livestock," she added.

These FFA experiences will have a tremendous impact on Gruszie's future. "Raising market hogs and steers will help me pay for college this fall to study welding at MSU-Northern. I have been saving for seven years. From the sale of my market animals, I have enough savings for two years of college."

Gruszie also plans on using the experiences she has gained with the herds she has built to eventually return to Chinook to partner with the family ranch after she graduates from college.

"My SAE has helped me understand what I need to provide for all aspects of the livestock industry and the importance of keeping accurate records. I will bring back to the ranch all of these abilities and the experiences gained through my twelve years of raising breeding animals. When I take over the ranch someday, I will already have my name out in the community for raising high quality animals. This reputation will benefit me in the long run."

In other ways as well, Gruszie's finalist status has her following in her mother's footsteps. Gruszie's mother recalls winning the Star State Farmer Award herself, referring to it as an unforgettable FFA memory.

"We were so excited to have Alyssa as a finalist. I received the Star State Farmer award in 1994 and thought it would be such an honor to have her join me. Back then we didn't have to do interviews nor did we know we were up for the award until it was announced. Winning Star Farmer is one FFA memory that I will never forget," Trisha Gruszie said.


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