This past weekend and week, the American Farm Bureau Federation held it’s annual meeting in Atlanta, and aside from Mike Rowe giving a keynote address, one of the major highlights are the Young Farmer and Rancher competitions.
Now, these events are intense, competitive, and generally nerve racking. You are competing against the very, very best young farmers and ranchers from all over the United States for some nice prizes- such as a new Dodge pickup truck or a new tractor.
This is the Superbowl of young farmer events.
And it’s a hell of a yardstick to judge your program and state by.
Or should it be?
Now my state, Michigan, has enjoyed success in the past in national young farmer events, and we are thankful and proud of that. It is always great to be recognized for having a top-notch program, as well as winning some great prizes.
But what are we really trying to do here?
When I ask that question, I’m talking about looking at the young farmer programs in a larger sense. I think it’s worth asking the question: What are you trying to do, and how does your state measure success?
Now, for many years, I believed we needed to win to prove our worth. Having 3 contestants come home with pickup trucks would certainly prove that we had a young farmer program that is one of the top in the nation.
But then I thought about it a little harder....
What does winning a big award accomplish, really? How does this improve the lives of our member families, build leadership skills, and give agriculture it’s next generation of leaders? And really, the answer is glaringly simple.
What does, is Michigan Farm Bureau and it’s Young Farmer Program.
We have young farmers on virtually every one of our county boards, with many, many of them serving as presidents, vice presidents, and committee chairs.
We have young farmers who attend our state annual meeting, speak on issues, and develop some of the finest policy in the nation.
And that’s just what we do in Farm Bureau.
Our young farmers serve as township trustees, clerks, and board members. They are on zoning boards, planning commissions, and preservation boards. They serve on county boards, committees, and task forces.
And that’s just what we do at the local level.
Our young farmers, products of our leadership training programs, now serve in the halls of Michigan’s legislature. Several more stepped up and ran in primary races.
And that’s just what we do at the state level.
Graduates and alumni of Michigan Farm Bureau’s Young Farmer program now serve, and have served, on national committees, including the American Farm Bureau board.
That, is what we do.
And it’s all worth a lot more than a new pickup truck.