The American Farm Bureau Federation presented its highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award, to Keith Eckel from Pennsylvania and former Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill. The award was announced during the 90th AFBF annual meeting.

Eckel, who has been a farmer and leader for agriculture for 40 years, served as a member of the AFBF board of directors, and on various executive, organization, finance and study committees.

He was later appointed by the secretary of agriculture to serve on the nation's Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee for Trade in Fruits and Vegetables. He was also appointed as a charter member of the National Dairy Board and was later appointed to serve on the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act Advisory Committee.

In 2008, President Bush appointed Eckel to the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development. Also in 2008, he was elected chairman of the Nationwide Mutual board of directors.

“During his career of service to agriculture, Keith Eckel has been a prominent spokesman for Farm Bureau on critical issues of the day — farm labor, private property rights, government regulations, international trade and farm credit,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “Thanks to his devotion and determination, he has been a significant force for agriculture both on the state and national levels.”

Rep. Ray LaHood's 31-year career of public service has focused on agricultural issues. He has served as a member of the House of Representatives from the 18th District of Illinois and has been a tireless and effective advocate for agriculture.

His voting record on AFBF issues earned him a “Friend of Farm Bureau” designation for six consecutive sessions of Congress. LaHood has been asked to serve as secretary of transportation in the Obama administration.

LaHood entered politics in 1977, when he served as an administrative assistant to former Rep. Tom Railsback, R-Ill. LaHood was first elected to Congress in November 1994, and completed seven terms representing Illinois. He began his legislative career on the House Agriculture Committee and has supported and worked to fund each farm bill.

He also has been a leader in promoting ethanol as a renewable fuel and has supported policies leading to its expanded use.

AFBF established the Distinguished Service Award to honor individuals who have devoted their careers to serving farming and ranching.