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Best of NAMA 2024

Purdue University's Agricultural Alumni Association presented Certificates of Distinction to six recipients. The 2024 honorees are (from left): Freddie Barnard, Tom Bechman, Ben Carter, Steve Nichols, Bud Harmon and Don Lehe.

Source: Purdue University

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue University's Agricultural Alumni Association presented six agricultural leaders with its Certificate of Distinction at the association's annual Fish Fry Feb. 3.

The Certificate of Distinction is the highest honor the Agricultural Alumni Association has. Recipients of the award have contributed significantly to agriculture, forestry or natural resources through professional accomplishments, activity in professional organizations, community service work and other activities that make the nominees a credit to their profession.

The 2024 awardees are Freddie Barnard, Tom Bechman, Ben Carter, Bud Harmon, Don Lehe and Steve Nichols.

Barnard, former agricultural economics professor

Barnard, of Calhoun, Kentucky, joined the Purdue faculty in 1982, and he used his 35 years at Purdue to bring education about agricultural finances and problem-solving research to many people in academia and in industry.

Shortly after Barnard was hired, a five-year agricultural financial crisis began. In response, the new professor took leadership of the Indiana Bankers Association Midwest Agricultural Banking School. Barnard directed the Midwest Agricultural Banking School for 36 years, and in 2005, Barnard began leading the Advanced Agricultural Credit Seminar for graduates of the school.

During his career, Barnard also coordinated the annual Indiana Bankers Agricultural Clinic and Advanced Agricultural Credit Workshop and was an original member of the Farm Financial Standards Council, founded in 1989. He helped establish the council's task force, commissioned by the American Bankers Association, which produced guidelines utilized at all levels of the agriculture industry over the decades. In 1994, he led a three-member team that taught farm financial reporting and analysis to 227 students at three Russian agricultural institutes.

Barnard taught his students about real-world situations faced by lenders, producers and business managers through tools like the Purdue Agribusiness Management Simulation. His honors include three Agricultural Economics outstanding counselor awards, Purdue's Book of Great Teachers (2013), the Frederick L. Hovde Award of Excellence in Education Service to the Rural People of Indiana (2015), the American Bankers Association's Blanchfield Award (2018, for a nonbanker's contributions to agricultural and rural banking), and the Farm Financial Standards Council's Buel Lanpher Achievement Award (1993, to an academician for outstanding service) and Lifetime Emeritus Membership Award (2019).

Bechman, long-time agricultural communicator

Bechman, of Franklin, Indiana, has been a widely respected agricultural communicator for more than 40 years.
Bechman, who graduated from Purdue in 1981, is the editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer magazine, one of 18 state and regional magazines in the Farm Progress family of publications. His work benefits leaders within the National FFA Organization and 4-H, as well as participants among other Indiana agriculture organizations.

Bechman also directs the new products team at the annual Farm Progress Show, the nation's largest outdoor farm event. More than 600 exhibitors spread over 90 acres to showcase the latest agricultural advancements, and Bechman's team writes about the new technologies. "It's a daunting task," said one who wrote in support of Bechman's nomination, "but Tom is a fearless leader who masters the details, encourages his team and gets it done."

In 2023, Bechman was inducted into the Indiana Livestock Breeders Association Hall of Fame. The Purdue Agricultural Alumni Association named him a Distinguished Ag Alumnus in 2005. In 2017, the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts bestowed on him its Friend of Conservation Award.

"Agriculture has changed a lot over the course of Tom's career," a Purdue professor said, "and he can take credit for helping stimulate some of that change with the spotlight he's shone on new technology and management recommendations. Indiana agriculture is stronger and better because of the contributions Tom has made throughout his career."

Carter, a passionate alumnus

Carter, of Salem, Indiana, has served the Purdue agriculture community in many ways large and small since he graduated from the university in 1972.

After graduation, Carter went home to the family farm before returning to Purdue to take classes. Although Carter never finished his master's degree, he remained involved in the College of Agriculture, and he became assistant director of the Purdue University Crop Diagnostic Training and Research Center at what is now the Agronomy Center for Research and Education.

"I had much interaction with him coordinating field plots for forage-focused training to clientele," Keith Johnson, Purdue professor of agronomy, recalled. "He was part of an effective planning and education-delivery team where his input was valued. Ben's enthusiasm for agriculture is sincere and consistent. He's remained upbeat about the present and future possibilities of agriculture."
Cater later worked with the Indiana departments of Natural Resources and Agriculture. He produced statewide educational, financial and technical programs for rural and urban audiences, and assisted with the Indiana State Fair's Pathway to Water Quality effort.

"My dad isn't a Nobel laureate, a politician or a doctor/PhD of any kind," Cora Carter said. "But Dad's success is more than academic or professional. It is his tireless passion to serve the Purdue College of Agriculture and the Purdue Agricultural Alumni Association. Whenever they call, he answers."

Harmon, former Animal Sciences department head

Harmon, of Wildwood, Missouri, has used his passion for research, learning and teaching to cultivate animal science programs that address real-world problems.

After four years in the Navy, Harmon earned degrees at Purdue and Michigan State, then spent 13 years as a professor at the University of Illinois. His 90 research publications focused primarily on amino acid nutrition. Ralston Purina made him director of swine nutrition research in 1975. His contributions were instrumental in the development of High Octane 2.6 feed, which influenced swine production across the globe.

He returned to Purdue in 1986 and was the head of the Department of Animal Sciences until 1997. As Harmon fostered fundamental research and graduate student programs, his industry acumen contributed to the department establishing a mindset of working with private industry to solve real-world problems.

In 1989, the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited him for his efforts during the 1988 drought. While advancing strategic collaborations in international agribusiness, Harmon was president of the American Society of Animal Science, was the lone American on a task force to support emerging democracies in Eastern Europe, lectured in 37 countries and earned six patents.

In 2004, Harmon partnered with Bob Book to bring the Book Harmon Leadership Forum to life. The event allows undergraduate animal sciences students to learn from industry and academic leaders. The forum has featured about 30 national and state industry leaders since its creation.
"I believe Dr. Harmon's impact is very significant when you consider his reach with students who live and work around the globe and have been shaped by his vision of developing leaders and providing scholarship opportunities, leadership experiences, industry connections and the confidence to impact our world in unique ways," said a Purdue animal sciences graduate.

Lehe, former educator, legislator and advocate

Lehe, of Brookston, Indiana, has diligently taught and advocated for Hoosier farmers across the many classrooms and committees he has served over the years.

Lehe earned degrees in agriculture education and animal sciences from Purdue before returning to his hometown of Brookston, where he taught agriculture at Frontier High School and then at South Newton High School. Lehe later joined the Frontier school board, which he participated in for 18 years.

Because of his work with swine on the family farm, Lehe eventually led the White County Pork Producers and the White County Agricultural Association, which runs the county fair. He was also on the board of directors for the Indiana Pork Producers Association.

Lehe served in the Indiana General Assembly for 20 years. He became the vice chair of the state's Interim Study Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources, where he helped fashion confined feeding operation rules and regulations. He led the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee and was a member of the Public Health and Environmental Affairs committees. He was an advocate for the Indiana corn checkoff program, legislation that promoted livestock health and expanding health benefit programs for farmers.

As Lehe closed out his legislative service, he championed a bill to create the Indiana Center for Animal Policy. It would house the Indiana State Board of Animal Health and the newly named Indiana Board of Veterinary Medicine.

"I am personally grateful for his leap of faith to support the new center," state veterinarian Bret Marsh said. "The citizens of Indiana will reap the benefits of his leadership for many decades to come."

Nichols, nationally recognized swine judge

Nichols, of Delphi, Indiana, has left a lasting mark on the swine industry in Indiana and beyond.

Nichols earned animal sciences degrees from Purdue. While studying for his master's, he managed the Purdue Purebred Swine Unit. He was a Purdue Extension agent -- the title is now educator -- in Clark County for two years, then took the same job in a swine stronghold, Carroll County, in 1977. He retired in 2006 and now works with a consulting firm that helps livestock producers meet permitting, regulatory and environmental compliance requirements.

At the Indiana State Fair in 2006, after more than 650 shows across the country, Nichols retired from swine judging. Considered one of the nation's premier swine judges, he worked the World Pork Expo in Des Moines, Iowa, and many other major shows.

At the 2023 Indiana State Fair, the fair's board presented Nichols with lifetime achievement recognition, and Indiana Farm Bureau designated Nichols a legend for his impact on the swine industry. He's in the Indiana Livestock Breeders and Carroll County Agriculture Association halls of fame, and Indiana Pork Producers awarded him its Meritorious Service and Outstanding Young Pork Producer awards.
"Swine judging combines and highlights Steve's love of pigs, people/kids and education," said an industry executive writing in support of Nichols' nomination. "Simply put, Steve was the most highly demanded swine judge in the U.S. due to his integrity, ability to quickly evaluate and discuss swine quality traits, and the way he positively interacted with exhibitors."

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